Brian Wants to Frame the Reviews: ‘If you disagree with me, you are probably a Fundie!’

kinnon —  February 9, 2010 — 50 Comments

UPDATE: Brian McLaren graciously responds to this post, my next post on Reviewers Reviewing and my later post where I have Questions for him (which he responds to).

Brian McLaren's new book is now appearing in the hands of those who pre-ordered it. My copy of A New Kind of Christianity arrived last Thursday. I grabbed fleeting moments over the weekend to quickly read it. From the dust cover of the book,

We are in the midst of a paradigm shift in the church. Not since the Reformation five centuries ago have so many Christians come together to ask whether the church is in sync with their deepest beliefs and commitments. These believers range from evangelicals to mainline Protestants to Catholics, and the person who best represents them is author and pastor Brian McLaren. [emphasis added]

Brian's book tells us immediately that Brian best represents those of us who question the institutional church. A little "all your leadership are belong to me" perhaps – at least for those of us who dare question the present state of the church. Now, perhaps it's just marketing hyperbole. Maybe Brian really doesn't think he's God's answer to the present state of the church.

Or God's ten answers that is.

But he certainly wants to frame how his book is reviewed.

Scot McKnight pointed to the binary "Quiz" Brian ran on his blog:

"If A you probably are a Fundamentalist…"

"If B you are curious…"

Scot responds,

…the arrangement smacks of radical individualism and denies the foundational role our communities play in our knowledge and social construction of reality. What's wrong with asking about every new idea what "the Church" or my community thinks? Or if it is logically consistent with what I've already concluded to be sound? Not only that, but the world of Jesus was much more like the first answer than the second, and that is has been brought to the fore by cultural anthropologists like Bruce Malina, who adapts the research of Mary Douglas and others.

I also wonder if this is not a false dichotomy: I know plenty of fundies who are intrinsically curious people, who wonder "what if?" and who are always chasing down their questions. I know plenty on the other side who aren't in the least curious.

My friend, Darryl Dash in his post, Ending the Discussion Before it Starts, says this,

I’ve found that there are ways to end a discussion before it even begins. It’s easy: you set the terms of the discussion so that if you disagree with me, then it’s clearly because you have a problem, so it’s no use even continuing. It’s not really fair, but it allows me to pretend that I have the moral high ground while it effectively silences you, if you let it that is. [emphasis added]

And then later responding to Brian's writing at the end of A New Kind of Christianity where it would seem that Brian insists that he and his friends should get to set the terms of the discussion of his book, Darryl writes,

…if we say that we have concerns, it’s implied that we have a problem and we’re trying to shut things down. This makes it hard to review a book, never mind deal with the kinds of issues raised in a book like this.

There is a level of cognitive dissonance in a writer who offers his book as the answer to all that ails Christianity and then also wants to frame how we engage with that book. And the dissonance is deeper in that said writer chooses to label those who disagree with him as close-minded Fundamentalists.

Perhaps it's time to read the 99 Theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto, Mr. McLaren. You sound like the companies they attempt to educate.

I'm sure it's rather unfortunate for you, but you don't get to decide how the rest of us engage with your book. Let me be blunt, your approach is reminiscent of the divisive politics perfected in the nation you call home. Where people who disagree with your president are labeled as racists – or those who agree are socialists. Of course, you showed some of that tendency yourself here, so perhaps I should not really be surprised.

Jeremy Bouma said this in his Goodbye Emergent post yesterday – a post that has generated a lot of response,

Recently, Doug Pagitt wrote on his blog and Brian McLaren said in a video that those of us who take them and others to task are held in bondage to fear and thoroughly un-loving; my motivation for analyzing the theology and beliefs of leaders within the emerging church is fear-based and inherently un-love. One word: ridiculous. I am not fearful; this has nothing to do with fear. In fact, the loving thing to do is in fact confront, prod, and question. [emphasis added – links to Pagitt and McLaren at Bouma's post.]

Let me offer this piece of advice to you, Brian, if you don't want to receive reviews that question your ideas then simply stop writing. It really is that simple.

Otherwise you will need to deal with the reality that the days of the idea gatekeepers are over. Welcome to the networked conspiracy.

I'll begin to review the book in my next post, later this week.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

50 responses to Brian Wants to Frame the Reviews: ‘If you disagree with me, you are probably a Fundie!’

  1. By doing an “intellectual/theological MRI” on the quotes composited from HarperOne’s (the publisher) and author’s and Emergent framings of the “conversation,” it appears this book is highly bipolar/us-them/exclusive instead of paradoxical/both-and/inclusive.

    Ironically, it all (ultra)sounds more hypermodern (super-analyzing and divisional) than holistic (synthesizing and relational). Which means it is stuck in TJ mode, Myers-Briggerly speaking, than FP mode. This theology actually sounds like it’s stuck in the hypermodernism of the late ’90s. And so, how new is that exactly? Just sayin’ …

    Which means, as best I can see, this new kind of Christianity is what I’ve termed, “The Frankenstein Syndrome” – it may have all the “right” parts, but there’s no life in it. As I’ve said before, “In ministry as in medicine, to dissect it is to kill it.”

    From this pre-review of the framing, I’m sorry, but “You lost me at hello.” I don’t really see any significant reason to purchase a copy to read, or even borrow one …

  2. Happy to say … I”VE NEVER READ any Brian McLaren because I think he’s a blowhard who likes to hear himself talk. His church is (make that was because he no longer leads a church) right here in the DC area. It’s not emerging in the least little bit. He talks a good game, but he ain’t got the walk. So. In my book, he has not earned the right to be heard.

  3. …hmmm…I have never gotten around to reading any of McLaren’s books either. With me, however, that is not too unusual…I choose my books carefully–no time for rabbit trails. I’m with Brad, though, about this particular book: it lost me at hello, too.

  4. I stopped reading McClaren after A Generous Orthodoxy for the same reason I stopped reading Piper: same content, different cover.

    But I’m going to read this, mostly because I’m so disturbed by the tactics of oppression coming out of the Emergent camp lately that I’m hoping something in this book represents a re-embrace of irenic faith.

    Your comment about American politics is spot-on, by the way. So sad.

  5. I’m with Sonja and Peggy. I’ve never read anything by McClaren, though I did hear him speak here at Fuller Seminary a few weeks ago, and I liked what he had to say. Seemed very balanced to me.

    That being said, I’m not at all defending him or the issues that some bring up. But, I do wonder if there really is a certain amount of truth to “those of us who take them and others to task are held in bondage to fear and thoroughly un-loving.” Maybe not for everyone, but I think in the church there is a tendency to put people into camps of Friend or Foe, and if they are Foe, they are subjected very much to fear-filled, unloving accusations that attempt to stamp their words with heresies of long ago, thus dismissing them out of hand.

    The emerging church started as a reactionary movement, and I see there’s still much reactionary happening on both sides, especially as sides really are continuing to develop within the movement. Jeremy’s post that you link above notes his goals to attach a thorough Pelagianism to Pagitt and others. Is that really theological fair and loving?

    I think McLaren and others have been so consistently unfairly, and unlovingly attacked, and so rarely healthily critiqued in love, they react a little like a beaten dog might–snapping at the hands of even friends who show the slightest harsh move.

    They have been called heretics, and worse. I cannot say I defend or have even read all the many books, new or old, but what I have heard says they are seeking Christ. And as those on one side raise increasingly harsh and shrill rejections, there is certainly a welcoming party on the other side–a progressive theology that is more than willing to welcome their return from a far country with open arms and celebration.

    Yes, there is a place for honest and open critique, but commentary never exists in a vacuum, and given the last ten years of reaction there is, I think, a sensitivity that comes with both affirming unity in Christ even as particulars may be heartily discussed and argued.

  6. Cheeky! 🙂

    “… the days of the idea gatekeepers are over.” Finally! Yay! 😀

  7. When I get slammed to pieces, I can react like a wounded puppy and overreact – anyone who has been at the end of one of my rants can attest to that. 🙂 That’s why I set up an accountability group with people ranging form a Unitarian (she’s clueless about ‘church’ lingo so she tells me when I’m going too insider) to a few conservative evangelicals who remind me when I’m getting so Anglican, I’ve lost them. Also, I’ve been engaging with a number of free thinkers via Religion Dispatches and Killing the Buddha. I’ve found it’s critical for me to engage with those from outside the circle or else I can become very myopic.

  8. Pat, Pat, Pat. Please do not suggest that my goal is attach Pelagianism to Pagitt. Did you steal into my MacBook? Shame on you. Had you actually read the posts you’d know I came into the question neutral. People have said he is, so I wanted to see myself. So I read Pelagius. And then read him alongside Doug. And then described and analyzed what I saw. So please be fair. Come and read and comment but be fair for Pete’s sake!


  9. Patrick and Becky … you both make excellent points. It would be interesting to find out if the folks in question have some sort of accountability group with the breadth and depth that you describe, Becky, or if it’s a bunch of friends who are like thinkers.

    I understand how people feel and respond when they’re attacked and I’m probably worse than the next person. However, the men in question do know the difference between questions from within and attacks from without and choose to respond to both indiscriminately. I guess when one earns one’s living from book sales and royalties that begins to change one’s perspective … but what do I know 😉

  10. Wow, so far I’ve read a few negative reviews, but I’ve not actually read the book so I won’t pass judgment on it. McLaren seems increasingly aloof on his blog though that doesn’t mean that he’s wrong about everything he writes any more than Prince’s obvious ego doesn’t detract from his killer skills. As I said, I’ll have to read the book to see if it really is a somewhat less than generous orthodoxy or what-have-you.

  11. i wonder if McLaren actually reads this blog or other blogs that offer him “advice”. It seems there’s a lot of presumption to go around and a lack of real relationship with each other.

  12. You raise some valid points, Nathan, although I’m not sure who-all you’re including in your conclusions. And I kind of don’t know quite why I’m responding, except perhaps to provide some interpretive background. It’s not to shut you down. (If that were my motive, I know I’m capable of being really snide and slam dunking.)

    But, okay, anyway … advice, presumption, relationships.

    ADVICE. Speaking strictly for myself, when I blog/comment critiques more extensive than this one – as I have on theologically-based movements like New Apostolic Reformation, Seven Mountains, Lakeland Revival, and various “missional” methodologies – it’s more to leave a time capsule of information and interpretation rather than to correct the source people involved. If I sensed a leading and/or openness in that direction, I would do it (and have occasionally done just that).

    I haven’t connected with Brian McLaren since the early 2000s. We were both presenters at the same event in the late 1990s, and exchanged emails a few times over a few years after that, mostly on topics related to cultural analysis. I haven’t read his books through, though I have read some excerpts and talked about the concepts a lot with a number of 20/30-somethings I was relating with at seminary.

    But I don’t see my particular critique above as about Brian McLaren so much as it is about the larger Emergent movement of which he has been a key “convener,” and the consumerist nature of North American Christianity/Christendom. As a linguist, I look for patterns in communication and in culture, and this material that has been put in print about *A New Kind of Christianity* stands as further evidence in what I see as a long-time pattern of exclusion, hidden underneath the language of inclusion.

    I realize that trying to have “conversation” through blogging is difficult because over 60% of normal in-person communication is lost in print. There’s no tone of voice or inflections to hear, no facial expressions or body language — clues that help us interpret emotions and emphases and meaning beyond that of the words themselves. So, we’re stuck with just 40% — and those on the printed page or screen can be easily misunderstand. However, the kind of language of framing the sales/reading for this book is so similar to what I’ve heard before that it represents sort of a last-straw in a large pile of exclusions I’ve seen and sensed over the years.

    PRESUMPTION. In re-reading my comment, I suppose I could certainly come off as sounding presumptive. But I just blogs ’em how I sees ’em, and those conclusions come from my being involved in the related “movements” for 15 years now, although I’ve not been directly involved in all the various “conversations.” I’ve seen this flow move from “new edge” to “Young Leaders/GenX ministry” to “postmodern ministry” to “Terra Nova” to “emerging” to “Emergent Village” to “missional” and “beyond.” I’ve seen the movements and participants sift themselves out based on theologies and paradigms.

    And Emergent has come across to me as a sort of hyper-extension of the dominant modernist paradigms. And that approach drives holistic paradigm people like me absolutely nuts! And, in reality, I’m just summarizing in my comments pretty much the same analysis I did over five years ago on what turned into Emergent. I found the paradigm profile and organizational DNA of Emergent a turn-off then, and over time, it seems to have concentrated into a more espresso form of deconstructive theologies and communal exclusivity. (I blog about paradigms a lot, in case you’re interested, and also expect to blog soon on some of my own history with these related movements and what I think I’ve seen. I won’t be surprised if I get a lot of push-back, and I’ll try to deal with it as graciously as I can. Historical interpretation in the middle of changes is a tough thing, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid it – – hopefully we don’t in our personal lives, and shouldn’t in our corporate Kingdom life.)

    So, I’m trying to critique based on relevant personal experiences with emerging people and events; emotional, intellectual, and theological knowledge; spiritual hunches and discernment; communications theory, organizational development, and a whole lotta other stuff; just because that’s part of my perspective. I’ve got gaps that need filling in my personal and theological growth, and excesses that need filing off. That’s why getting together and aggregating our sense of things is important as a “spiritual MRI.” (And if you sensed any specific presumptiveness in either of my comments, I’m open to hearing what you have to say, either here or via the “contact” page on my blog.)

    RELATIONSHIPS. And speaking of community, I personally know the writer of this post and about half of the people who’ve commented on it to date. I have regular interactions with most of them — like, on a weekly basis if not more frequently. These are mature men and women who help me in my venting, repenting, and relenting as appropriate. They provide a virtual network that involves communal input through prayer, discernment, service, discipling, accountability, etc., for our personal lives and for the Kingdom in missional transformation. We don’t share the same theological traditions or political platforms, yet I find we have a common missional outlook and a mutual respect for one another without it being a mutual admiration society – the communal equivalent of narcissism. I don’t know what kind of “accountability team” Brian McLaren has, but I surely do know how valuable such deep, discipling friendships have been for me!

    Anyway, for what it’s worth … there it is.

  13. Bill,
    THANK YOU…… and did i mention…… I LOVE YOU! I’ve been getting a little tired of the patronizing diatribe that has just enough platitudes to make me reach for the insulin syringe. I’ve pretty much have stayed off radar and holding my tongue on a few matters. ONE of my primary kvetch with matters in the “Conversation” is that it’s beginning to wreak of NLP (Neuro-linguistic-Programming) “type” format… where the outcomes of said conversation feels nudged in a certain “way” of thinking. Which i basically think is manipulation……… Plus the “if i disagree” i am therefore “a fundie” or of the “unenlightened”. Mostly i’ve stayed quiet in a somewhat hopeful stance, but all things considered. I also don’t have enough 38 point scrabble words to engage in “said conversation” these days. sorry if this sounds like a rant, i’m getting frustrated with some of the stuff i’ve seen go on and my heart is sad. What’s next. “A new kind of Christ”?
    Brad, i think you’re on point my dear.- I’m still looking for the “life” in it though, there’s no DNR on the chart, so i’m running the Code.
    Blessings and shalom,

  14. Brad, I REPEAT….. ON POINT! i just noticed you posted the same time i did. 😉 “for what it’s worth”… thank you…… i’m rolling my eyes and nodding. blessings,

  15. um, it’s a really good book

    well-written, open & generous in tone, caring in the way it covers complex stuff

  16. Bill – I’m reading it now, loving it. And generally publishers control the dust jacket content, not the author.

    BTW, I was on a call with Brian last night when he pretty much said the opposite of just about everything you’re accusing him of here.

    Just saying.

    Read the book and get back to us. Thanks.

  17. Sorry Bill… meant to say read it “slowly” and get back to us. My bad.

  18. Mike,
    I’ve read all but the last chapter of the book. I’ve heard about Brian’s comments on the phone call – and I’m sad to say I’m not surprised.

    And I’m not accusing him of anything other than what he did on the phone call, in the book and in the lead up to the book – which is to attempt to marginalize those who disagree with him using any number of pejorative terms (to his way of thinking) – conservative, Fundamentalist, unevolved, mean, nasty, etc. And “bearing false witness.” That one’s always a show stopper.

    Oh, and generally Mike, the authors get to approve the jacket content.

  19. What a tough situation. I can’t speak to the book itself, but as an author I can say that publishers sometimes veto the author on the marketing copy and have even sometimes used the wrong cover. That’s right, the wrong cover that wasn’t approved! So there are a couple of ways things could have gone wrong with the marketing copy.

    I’m not sure how Brian feels about it, but it may not automatically represent how his views. However, if it does, then we may have something to talk about. At the very least we need to ask about the ways publishers hype their books.

    However, with all of the reviews coming out, I’m sure we’ll have much more to discuss than that!

  20. I think Scot was unfair to exclude Godin’s video from his initial framing of Brian’s question re: fundamentalism, and I think you’re continuing the unfairness by basing your opening salvo on dust jacket cover copy. I think that Brian is sincere in his desire to dialogue about these 10 Questions (that he has, indeed, received from “evangelicals to mainline Protestants to Catholics” the world over) with anyone – including you – who’d like to discuss them. But stating that you think the author thinks he’s God doesn’t exactly start an inviting conversation, does it? (I know, you think Brian didn’t start an inviting conversation with his fundamentalism quiz. I think the quiz makes sense in light of the Godin video – I’m sure he had no idea he’d be stirring up a $#!tstorm of Missional-Right reaction to it – which to me shows he wasn’t marketing) With that said, I do look forward to your actual review of the book.

    Brad, I appreciate your words here. As this post and my comments above attest, as surely as anything, this whole conversation has become a lot more polarized, especially in the last 24 months. Folks who would’ve been friends before now seem to be idealogical combatants, and…over what? It seems to be less and less clear, and this makes me sad.

    The bottom-line for me is that I think push-back is healthy, dissent is healthy, and I think that’s exactly what Brian wants. But framing it in the way that some are doing right now is only playing into his stereotype – fair or not – of critics as angry and reactionary.

  21. But framing it in the way that some are doing right now is only playing into his stereotype – fair or not – of critics as angry and reactionary.

    Because God knows those on the Emergent-Progressive side could never possibly be angry and reactionary, Mike. Pure as the driven snow, you lot.

  22. Missional-Right? Wow Mike, where did that come from? A sure fire way to polarize the conversation is to start labeling people.

  23. But labels do tend to be helpful (to an extent, which is also why they are dangerous). I think it is time to call a spade a spade. Brian is merely articulating a progressive theology for our time and he’s certainly not the first to do so. I’m a little over halfway through his book and it seems to me that any readings which cast him as “angry” and simply reactionary are a bit misguided. Mike does have an important point. Brian is simply offering an alternative. And he’s surely not drawing a line in the sand between those who accept it and those who reject it, at least I haven’t gotten that from my reading. If we are going to critique the book, let’s critique the book, not the publisher’s dust cover or the some prior idea about it. It seems to me that that is the conversation Brian is trying to draw us into. And if someone isn’t on board then that’s cool, but let’s but clear what we are talking about.

  24. “Missional-Right reaction”? WTF?

    And I would have thought that further polarization and line-drawing wasn’t really going to help this conversation a whole lot.

    Gotta go get my flame-retardant suit from the old Usenet days, I guess.

  25. Well … I’ll be damned. This is the first time in my life I’ve ever been referred to as a conservative.

    I’m rollin’ on the floor, Mike … if you but knew me at all, you’d never make that association – Missional-Right. For heaven’s sake.

    Not everyone who critiques is conservative. And my suggestion to you is that you start owning what is upsetting to you and stop defending Brian. He’s a grown-up now and can take care of himself. The only way the lines and camps are going to stop being drawn is when people stop trying to defend others, and start owning their own feelings, issues and ideas.

  26. Oops – did this offline and then pasted here. It’s long, but I think it’s relevant.

    Okay, so, I don’t know if this will make much sense, Mike, but I actually think things are getting more and more clear – – that is, if we’re scrutinizing value structures and organizational systems and information processing modes, and how different approaches end up in parallax/conflict. I’m attempting to come at all of this from the macro-to-the-micro, and it seems to me that much of the current polarization about Emergent involves posturing within the micro. Boil my view down to the essence, and it’s this: There is a much bigger perspective at work here, and it’s about paradigms. And on that level, I think it’s getting more clear. But this polarization does become less and less clear, I think, if we’re looking at are just spying out the specifics of systematic theology or marketing approaches or personalities. I’m trying not to make a moral judgment here, just trying to say what I’ve been seeing.

    Anyway, yesterday evening, I went back into my files and found some of my earliest attempts to interpret these two groups with different paradigms — one that morphed into Emergent and the other that eventually morphed into what we’d likely be calling “missional” today. The first document was dated April 2003, and had more intuitive stuff in it, things where I “sensed” a strong difference between Emergent and the particular event I was at (WabiSabi Austin). I noted some core aspects that “didn’t resonate,” or people whose overriding interests gave me a bad “gut feeling” that “something was off” between us in how we approached life. Made me wonder if we actually had the same goals in mind, even though we seemed to be on the same journey.

    The second document was from about April 2006, and I’d been able to put on my thinking cap to do some hard-core analysis in the previous three years. In that interpretive attempt, I did a detailed comparison of typical differences in epistemologies, apologetics, hermeneutics, organizational systems and infrastructures, values, priorities, etc. And they just are not the same. Siblings, maybe even twins because they were “emerging” around the same time, but with very different DNA.

    I opted out of the Emergent conversation and events very early on, as it seems there were enough points in a pattern that I “knew” in my gut it was on a trajectory that was not of great interest to me: abstract, philosophical, theological, pragmatic. I kept looking for my own niche to emerge: concrete, cultural, practitioner, holistic. Not that these are all I am, but they do represent an internally consistent paradigm that is quite different from that I perceived in (and perhaps somewhat projected onto) Emergent.

    But I wasn’t the only one who opted out of the Emergent conversation then, or later, as we came to see that we didn’t fit – – even though we know we were welcomed to the table. It just wasn’t the table we were being led to. And now, almost seven full years since those first inklings that these movements were not the same, those from earlier years who never really resonated with Emergent and the pursuit of new theologies (even if they appreciated some or many points therefrom), are identified more with the missional movement. And the opposite as well. There are some cross-over people, but sooner or later, it seems we sift out into one camp or the other. (Hey, wait a minute! That sounds linear, doesn’t it? But it actually isn’t. It’s about simultaneous layers of approaches in the Church … Oh yikes, I don’t even resonate with the “multiple [linear] streams in the emerging church” image! Oh well.)

    So, as it turns out, where it seemed before that we in “emergingdom” were on the same journey, that was actually more about where our trajectories as proto-Emergents and proto-missionals merely crossed paths. Our overall value structures weren’t the same (perhaps both drawn from biblical values, but not in the same combination or same order of importance). Our “philosophical” and “theological” interests weren’t the same. We proto-missionals didn’t necessarily emphasize ecclesiology in the same way that the proto-Emergents did, but seemed to gravitate to Christology instead, which led us to culturally contextualized and incarnational ministry instead of experimental church/ministry structures. And even if missional/culturally contextual and Emergent/ministry experimental LOOKED similar, they came from vastly different sources. (That’s the difficulty of parallax, eh?)

    Speaking of parallax, this “overlap issue” is what “paradigm parallax” is about — two very different vantage points on the same thing. From far away, it looks like we say/do the same things, but the closer we get, the more we see that the two perspectives are similar but really are offset. For those of us who are visually oriented, it’s as if we went to see Avatar in 3D, and sat in the back with our 3D glasses on. Everything looks great – – amazing, in fact! What a picture … depth, foreground/background, amazing. But then, we take off the glasses and start walking slowly closer and closer to the iMax screen. Gradually, it doesn’t look so great any more. In fact, we can see there are two separate images that are very very close, but really are off kilter from one another, and if we don’t resolve the difference, it give us a migraine! So, perhaps we need to take off the spiritual rose-colored 3D glasses, and see these two movements of Emergent and missional for what they are – – two very different paradigm layers that are giving us “spiritual vertigo”!

    So, that’s where I’m coming from. I’m far more layered than linear, so I am not a Hegelian-dialectic dood who believe that “thesis leads to antithesis leads to synthesis of a new thesis.” That’s a perspective, but it’s not mine. I am the culturologist kind of futurist who believes significant cultural changes spur philosophers to attempt capturing what has already changed, rather than grand changes in philosophy leading the way toward grand changes in cultures. I think using Marx to consider the contemporary nature of “radicalism” seems ironically modernistic. I’m no fan of Strauss’ and Howe’s assumption of cyclical patterns in generational dynamics; while it is a valid macrohistorical pattern assumption, ’tis an assumption nevertheless. And much of what I’ve experienced, heard, and read on such topics from Emergent authors seems to me to be the opposite of who I am and the paradigm I function from.

    I suspect disciples of Jesus Christ will continue to sort themselves out into the various layers where they feel most at home. And shouldn’t we do that, to clarify where we fit best so we can better steward God’s unique design of/for us? But maybe that sorting out process also helps explain why … okay, just speaking for myself alone here … why I personally felt so insulted by HarperOne’s marketing mode on the dust jacket of *A New Kind of Christianity,* as Bill quoted in the post: “We are in the midst of a paradigm shift in the church. Not since the Reformation five centuries ago have so many Christians come together to ask whether the church is in sync with their deepest beliefs and commitments. These believers range from evangelicals to mainline Protestants to Catholics, and the person who best represents them is author and pastor Brian McLaren.” [emphasis added]

    As if Brian McLaren speaks for far more of the emerging layers (that include Emergent and missional) than he does. That’s just plain silly, HarperOne! And that kind of posturing, regardless of whomever all was responsible for it, was not necessary … and in fact, I find it to be quite naughty!

    But oh well, guess it’s gotta sell. And it may indeed be an excellent read, and it’s great that there is in print the capturing of where Brian’s at these days in his theology. But really, HarperOne, yuh think I’m gonna give you $16.49 on Amazon or $24.99 full list price for a book that just made me realize — again — how often in this “conversation” I have been marginalized? Nuh, uh … think not. Cognito ergo sum? Insulto, ne’er go $um. All right, this is now turning from erudition into a rant. But since when does the holistic missional paradigm require me to attempt splitting my cognition from my emotions or volition?

  27. What you’re suggesting seems fair to me, Blake, and if I decide to critique the book, I will attempt to be forthright and fair, agree with what I agree with and disagree with what I don’t, and say why, or what I don’t understand.

    But I actually DO want to critique the dust jacket, and hopefully that might spur publishers to think more deeply about such things in the future. As a (philosophical) minority within the emerging movements and as one who never really was on board with Emergent but is more in the missional layer of things, and as one who finds myself being lumped in with people who have a substantially different paradigm — I find it excruciatingly frustrating that HarperOne would state what they did. I don’t think Brian McLaren best represents me or my peeps, just because I’m/we’re asking “whether the church is in sync with [my/our] deepest beliefs and commitments.” Good heavens! Do I have to put up with yet another reductionistic hyperbole that seems to invalidate me and those like me? Why!

    I found that flat out insulting. I’ve worked very hard over a 15-year period to understand who I am and where I fit in the contemporary scheme of things, so I could better steward what I have in/for the Kingdom, and I felt quite minimized by that HarperOne statement. In my opinion, that represents hack writing and it hacked me off.

    Okay. There it is …

  28. I get that, Brad. I guess I haven’t reacted as negatively toward but, in a sense, I think it should be critiqued. For what it is worth, since this “conversation” happens primarily in blogs, and pubs and other cohorts/networks/groups I think it is unfair to label any single person is representative. Yet, at the same time I understand the labeling because as far as publishing goes Brian has become the main figurehead of Emergent whether he or anyone else likes it out not. Perhaps that is indicative of a bygone publishing/marketing scheme that is no longer reflective of the reality on the ground given recent trends in social media. That raises all sorts of new questions, but I don’t want to co-opt this thread. That’s probably for a different post.

  29. Thanks for the response, folks! Brad, I’ll get back to yours in the morning…more than I can chew this late at night. 🙂

    To the others, I’m very sensitive to how ‘missional-right’ would be received, and I don’t use the term lightly. I only use it after several years of folks framing ’emergent’ as ‘left’ and ’emerging’ and centrist, and more recently, via folks with Origins et al, explaining ‘missional’ as culturally-engaged but Lausanne-affirming conservatives. “Right” is not pejorative, but rather the self-identification I’m seeing as relative to emergent.

    I hate labels as much as the next guy, but I guess the reason I’ve chosen to own the depiction as a ‘center-left composted Christian, house church emerger’ is because the shoe fits. At the bottom of much of the critique of McLaren’s latest is the disappointment that he seems to be drawing more on ‘progressive’ accents in theology rather than the ‘centrist’ hopes that were pinned on his earlier works.

    I could be wrong, though – thanks for the push-back.

    For more on how I’m processing this at the moment, see this.

  30. Oh, and I’m very aware that, even as I employed “missional-right” response (and I’m mainly referring to Bill’s posts and Scot’s, not anyone else’s – I read yours later, Sonja, and really enjoyed it – if “I feel your pain” can really be considered enjoyment 🙂 ) comes right on the heels of the 9 Marks/Calvinist camp deeming missional folks liberals – I feel your pain at being possibly ‘tarred and feathered’ by both sides!

    Except that I hope for a day when right, left, and center can worship and serve together despite disagreement – a ‘c’atholicity vis-a-vis the Anglican mean perhaps. One can hope…

  31. Ed – I agree with you that we need to talk about how books are hyped. Yes, sometimes things are the fault of the publisher e.g., Phyllis Tickle’s forward was mistakenly left out of “The New Atheist Crusaders.” So yes mistakes happen and not just with books but all forms of media. That’s what happens when you work with humans and given the downsizing in publishing, we can expect this rend to continue.

    But I place the burden on the writer for managing our own careers. Yes, we can and will make some mistakes at the beginning – it took me a few agents/managers to find an agent who was able to represent me without trying to market and brand me in a way that wasn’t true to who I am. In particular, my agent works with the publisher to ensure that I am able to review the book jackets and press releases and make any changes that I deem necessary.

    Also, I have worked with the publicity staff at HarperOne for years and have found them to have very high professional standards. They are not the kind of publishing house to take on an author and then promote him in a manner that did not meet with that author’s approval.

  32. I meant trend not rend. Oops.

    One other thing – we can never forget that anyone who publishes a book is in a very privileged position. I keep forgetting that when there’s too much month and not enough money. Hardly any writers get to publish one book let alone multiple books and then land speaking gigs, media appearances and the like. Unless someone hog ties us and forces our pen to paper, we chose this career and all the crud that comes along with it. Like it or not, anyone who publishes a book is a public figure of sorts – and while some secular sorts might buy our books, our publishers market us largely to the Christian market. So given those realities, what does that mean for how we are to conduct ourselves in the public sphere?

  33. We don’t have to accept whatever paradigms are given to us by publishers, nonprofits, or any other entity trying to market a product to us.

    If the conversation is to truly be seen as a horizontal one, then why is so much time spent on talking about the books and accompanying tours, videos, etc. that are being put out by the five white dudes, who are perceived to be the leaders? What would happen if say for a year all that energy and money that was spent conference hoping, catching the latest author tour, etc. got redirected into what’s going on at grassoots level in one’s neighborhood? Then gather together (with a virtual option so those who can’t afford the time or money can participate) and share the stories of what the Living Christ was doing in the quiet spaces away from the glare of the media spotlight. Too often, I see the post-conference buzz dissipate shortly after the event is over but this strikes me as a gathering where true transformation could take place. Just a thought outside the box.

  34. I haven’t read the book at all, it’s in the mail. But it seems to me there is a lot more reaction simply to an attitude that McLaren may have projected or may have not but seemingly did.

    Was there nothing helpful in the book? Nothing helpful at all to what McLaren brings to the discussion? Anything of redeeming value at all in what he is asking or bringing up?

    The quiz thing was seemingly meant to be tongue and cheek, and was also clearly not thought out to its fullest extent on his part. But I attend a Wesleyan school which hosted McLaren for an event, and he gave an entire discussion with a panel of Wesleyan thinkers where he pointed to the Wesleyan quadrilateral, which places a strong emphasis on the community AND tradition for its epistemological and interpretive framework, as a beautiful contribution that the Wesleyan tradition brings to the larger table. He has said the same in both “A Generous Orthodoxy” and “A New Kind of Christian.” So it’s clear he wasn’t meaning it in the sense that Scot took it- but again, on his part, not well thought out, particularly for someone in his place.

    But let’s also be honest here: a fairly healthy majority of people who do unhelpful negative critiques ARE fundamentalist, be they liberal, conservative, atheist, in the realm of politics, philosophy, and so on. They really DO start with the questions like: is this similar to or support what I already believe? If not, let me already begin to construct arguments against it, rather than place that to the side for a moment and see if there is anything I can learn from this.

    Obviously not every critic is this way. I would imagine you yourself are not this way, Bill (I admit I have not read your stuff. But it seems to me you are not). In fact, I daresay your critique and Mr. Bouma’s will be found to be VERY helpful indeed, IF it serves to prolong healthy, helpful conversation, and not shut it down entirely.

    I do take a small issue with how you yourself framed Brian’s framing: you say Brain says, essentially, “If you don’t agree with me, you are probably a fundie.” However, I think it is more accurately framed this way: “If you are not willing to at least explore something that might sound different than what you have always heard or been taught by others, then you are probably a fundie.” Truth be told, that is more often than not the case, wouldn’t you agree?

  35. Actually, Blake, I do think the Christian publishing and event industry is part of the system that we need to consider, because it affects our paradigm shifts (or lack thereof), contexts of interest, and ministries. Having worked in and around Christian publishing since 1986, I’ve watched as it generally lagged at least a decade behind the times. For instance, I taught at one of the largest U.S. Christian writers’ conferences in 2003 on the topic of writing to disciple “postmodern” people, and at that event, several Christian book and magazine editors asked me what “postmodern” was. I was glad they were even asking … finally, in 2003 … but frustrated at the lag time. I know we all learn at our own pace, and I believe they were sincere in wanting to know so they could get up to speed. However, I’d been offering to talk with editors about GenX, postmodern, emerging, culture changes, etc. since the mid-1990s, and had very few takers – – until it was The Next Big Thing, it seems.

    Is it possible these industries may actually be holding back Kingdom progress by crowning celebrities? Could the drive for dollars (both American and Canadian) be warping the “conversations”? How can a populist, neighborhood-based emerging-missional-contextual-incarnational movement be well served by a publishing-industry-identified singular expert?

    I’m not against getting paid for writing, and I don’t think it’s necessary for all Christian publishing to cease and desist in order for All To Be Write With The World. But the framing of this particular publishing event has me riled as I’ve detailed already, and I’m definitely with Becky on what needs to happen. It’s definitely time to explore options that don’t feed The Machine. That don’t keep promoting only the paradigms that match the world cultures on the wane (i.e., emphasizing the stars of conventional pragmatism and hyper-modern theoretician, and minimizing holistic paradigm practitioners). That don’t negate voices from the margins and narrow the conversation to mostly old Anglo guys (of which I am one, soon enough to be experiencing the wave of AARP join-up mailers).

    Well, 6 AM … time for work and coffee. Not in that order, of course.

  36. Jeremy, I do apologize! You’re right in my misreading of your post, and I got the sense that the “people” was you saying this.

    I promise to read better and more graciously as you continue to post.

  37. Mike, I want to affirm your use of missional-right, which I think is a useful description of the current debate.

    Dan Kimball is probably the best representative of this, as he has stated he is no longer emerging, but wants to pursue a more evangelistic ideal. This was the root of the Origins distinction. Though, an underlying text of that was the more theologically conservative folks were having to defend some of the theological “exploring” of others.

    So, it’s a useful term but I don’t like it either, well I don’t like the reality it signifies. This marks off territory–leaving the emerging theology equated with progressive theology, and missional theology oriented towards traditional Evangelical theology. I’m conservative on some topics, but very emerging over all, making me a little out of place in either of these assumed camps.

    I’m not alone, to be sure, which is one reason why I’m eager to help with the push against some kind of dividing terminology line.

  38. i think for lent this year im giving up the emergent conversation.

  39. Graceshaker – too funny. I think some folk would like me to give up blogging for Lent. Or perhaps longer. 🙂

  40. For Lent I’m giving up caring about McLaren and his antics. Typical to the Emergent Movement…lots of criticisms very few suggestions. If I keep telling you how fat you are without suggesting a workout regime or diet…I’m not a “spiritually enlightened”…I’m just a douche.

  41. It's come to this has it. Now you're talking about my weight. Gee, Matt.  🙂

  42. Alright, here’s the deal: I regret using ‘missional right.’ It might shock many of you to know that I consider myself missional in many of my influences and practices – even though I’m clearly also ’emergent.’ Here’s what I said in my defense when I first clarified what I meant by the term:

    “I’m very sensitive to how ‘missional-right’ would be received, and I don’t use the term lightly. I only use it after several years of folks framing ’emergent’ as ‘left’ and ’emerging’ and centrist, and more recently, via folks with Origins et al, explaining ‘missional’ as culturally-engaged but Lausanne-affirming conservatives. “Right” is not pejorative, but rather the self-identification I’m seeing as relative to emergent.”

    As I’ve noted the bemusement and/or outrage engendered at such placement, I’ve reevaluated. ‘EmergING,’ while existing from around 2005-2008, is definitely dead now. No one (in North America at least) self-identifies that way now. So if Neo-Calvinists are ‘right’ and Emergent is ‘left’ (and I have friends in both camps who would debate this, but speaking in broad generalities), then missional folks would be to the left of the NeoCalvs and to the right of the Emergents – which is kind of like saying missional folks are centrist, yes?

    So let the endless nomenclature be heretofore revised: I hereby now make my designation of missionals, with God as my witness,

    the missional moderates

    or missional middle. 🙂

  43. I think it was insightful, how you restructured the emerging-Emergent-missional-NeoCalvinist spectrum, Mike. It makes sense, if all those movements are put on the same scale to show how they relate with each other. But I don’t think I buy into what I assume is the underlying mode of processing that puts these elements on a linear spectrum in the first place … sorry, ’bout that …

    Yet it also seems to me there is a clue therein to the larger conflict in recent posts about bloggers and books and emerging: it’s about paradigms more than about products. It seems to me that a predominantly analytic (two-dimensional, compare-and-contrast) paradigm is more prominent for Brian McLaren’s proponents in this conversation about his book, [post-]emerging theology, and Emergent Village. I see this paradigm as heavily influenced by thinking that tends to focus on either/or, linear instead of layered, and dialetic methodology.

    I try to work from a multiplanar grid (three-dimensional model), in which case it’s about the relative position of groups and movements on a solid figure — not on a linear spectrum — and where their underlying paradigms overlap (if at all). Thinking is more focused on MRIs and other forms of multidimensional composites, layered instead of linear, and Venn diagrams and their 3D equivalents.

    So, since I’ve been trying to lay out my presuppositions lately in preparation for a post on “Deconstructing and Constructing Movements,” perhaps that will help explain why I’m bound to see things differently when I disagree with presupposition of a flat spectrum for emerging-Emergent-missional-NeoCalvinist. If it’s accurate that I’m looking at things from a holistic/3D paradigm, then there are many things I can’t/don’t jibe with that I see in a conventional analytic/2D paradigm. And it’s this analytic paradigm that I believe I’m discerning in the overall emerging, Emergent, and hyper-modern movements — and even in some of the groups and movements that claim to be missional.

    At some point, I practically give up on the labels people use (even of their own movements) and try to differentiate them based on how they process information and present their case. Hopefully, in my very final futuristguy post in April, I’ll be able to make as clear as I can how I see these various movements differentiating themselves at this point in time. Until then, I hope this comment sheds some light on the differences, and meanwhile, I shall endeavor to practice biblical moderation in all things, even if I don’t see myself as a “missional moderate”!

  44. Hi Brad,

    I think you’re absolutely right – I tried to make my re-christening over-the-top hyperbolic enough to where it wouldn’t be taken too seriously, but apparently I failed. That darn written word. To your insights, I want to say of course. While you probably don’t think Emergence is playing nice, Brian practically coined the both/and, ‘the old left-right dichotomies don’t apply anymore’ meme in the emergent conversation. And I wholeheartedly agreed – still do, in in principle. But here in reality – or what passes for it in the blogosphere – things are soundbyted (soundbyt?) and rather canned; I don’t resist this entirely, as labels do function as a kind of shorthand. Nonetheless, you’re right – linear models ultimately inhibit our imaginations, in this case our spiritual/theological imaginations, and in that case they’re a crying shame.

    Why are you closing up shop on your blog again?

  45. I think I’m absolutely left … behind, Mr. Mike! We must gets us a moderate moderator to moderate and mediate the linear delineations to reline but not decline nor malign, cuz we are players not just layers and hopefully not slayers.

    Who invented this crazy language? Oh, right. Luther … well, not exactly. He invented written German. But that’s what we get with dialect and not dialectic.


    Sorry, they weren’t in 140-character blogbytes, but those were kinda fun to riff!

    Why am I closing up blog-shop? Multiple choice:

    A. It was just time to switch to something else other than culturology, paradigmology, futurology, and toxology.
    B. Bill Kinnon made me do it.
    C. God made me do it. (aka The Spirit led me to bring closure to “futuristguy” blog).
    D. I will have a surprising and spectacular job very soon, and will need a few months to prepare.
    E. None of the above.
    F. All of the above.

    [Of course, choice #F does not seem to be in correct linear-logical order to make sense, given the placement of #E, but whatever. You must remember this, a list is still a list, a sly is just a sly … OMG! Channeling 40s songs! No other symptoms. Where’s “House” when you need ‘im for a differential diagnosis?!]

  46. Brad, can I get you to edit my manuscript when I’m done with it? Make it funnier?

  47. OMG Mike! Theology plus laffology? Well, mebbe … heh-heh-heh … depending on whether #E or #F goes into effect on April Fool’s day. (I started blogging on April 1, 2003. Too prophetic, eh?)

  48. I wish people would stop using the term “neo-calvinist” to refer DeYoung, Piper, etc. That word already refers to (roughly) Calvinists who follow in the line of Abraham Kuyper. Neo-calvinists don’t fit very well on your linear chart.

  49. You are right, Eric.

    I think Kuyper and the two Hermann's, Dooyeweerd and Bavinck, would be rather upset being lumped into the same camp as the Young/Old Restless & Reformed. As would present day Kuyperians like Jonathan and Adrienne Chaplin, Gideon Strauss, Rich Mouw and many others.

    Mike is attempting to describe/contain people with a 2D chart in a 3D or even 4D world.

  50. Mike, I read this yesterday and have been percolating on it ever since. It’s been bugging me … the way a papercut does. You know … it doesn’t really hurt, but you know it’s *there*.

    I wish you had the time and the inkling to take another stab at this and try to come up with a description of these streams that does not tie faith to politics. You know that’s a really bad habit we Americans have. It’s not healthy for the Body at all. We also have a bad habit of labeling people and putting them in boxes so that we can talk about them. Not in the gossipy way, but in other often condemning ways whether we mean to or not. So … while labels may sometimes be helpful for efficiency, they are rarely helpful for love.


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