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Brian McLaren Biography

Is Brian McLaren a Cutting Edge Crusader or Line-Crossing Heretic?


Brian D. McLaren
Image: © Wally Schmidt at www.schmidtphotography.ca

Brian McLaren is cutting edge. Or he has crossed over the line--way over.

People's opinions of McLaren, a prolific author, speaker and former pastor, seem to depend on their view of the emerging church movement. Those who think the emerging church borders on a cult see McLaren as a heretic who is trying to turn Christianity into a feel-good fellowship of inclusivism where all faiths are equally valid and doctrine is a dirty word.

Those who embrace the emerging church see McLaren as a hero, a cutting edge crusader who questions judgmentalism, orthodoxy, the Bible, and the way evangelical Protestants lay a claim on God and conduct their lives.

Brian McLaren the Questioner

Like Rob Bell, another leader in the emerging church, McLaren asks a lot of questions but doesn't always supply the answers. Questioning the old way of doing things is part of the emerging church movement.

"We're trying to deal in healthier ways with a rapidly changing culture," McLaren told BeliefNet. "I don't actually like the term 'emerging church' because it sounds like it's one set of denominations as opposed to others. For me it's more a matter of conversation; it's a group of people talking together and asking questions together about what it means to practice our faith in this new context."

McLaren feels questioning is the way to make the church relevant to the under-30 generation. In an interview with Terry L. Heaton, McLaren said, "Well you know one definition of a heretic is someone who thinks for himself, and I am trying to think for myself. But another definition is someone who tries to cause schism. I'm not trying to cause schism. I'm a pastor. I value unity. Every opportunity I get I encourage people to have generous attitudes towards people, especially people with whom they disagree."

Most of McLaren's questions have come from his dozen or so books, which cover topics ranging from laying the groundwork for the emerging church to personal spirituality, to the the Postmodern church. In his lectures throughout the world, Brian McLaren has challenged Christianity's interpretation of hell as well as its stand on homosexual relationships.

Evangelical pastors and bloggers think McLaren's rejection of some traditional Christian positions goes beyond mere questioning, putting him on shaky theological ground. John Piper, author and Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, believes McLaren has gotten so far from the Bible and the gospel that he is heading toward heresy.

Brian McLaren the Missional

McLaren calls himself "missional," a term for someone sent into the world to do the work of Jesus Christ; that is, not expecting people to come to the church.

He has gone out physically, speaking and teaching in Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. His lectures have taken him to such universities and seminaries as Yale, Princeton, Fuller, George Fox, Biblical, Asbury, Western, Mars Hill Graduate School, Wesley, and Dominican.

He has gone out through memberships on the boards of Emergent Village and Off the Map. McLaren has also gone out electronically, through appearances on Larry King Live, Nightline, CNN, FOX, PBS, as well as his own blog www.brianmclaren.net.

Brian McLaren the Pastor

Brian McLaren was born in 1956. He received his BA in English from the University of Maryland in 1978 and his MA in 1981. After teaching college English for five years, he quit in 1986 to become founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church, in the Washington, DC-Baltimore area.

McLaren describes CRCC as innovative and "transdenominational." After pastoring for 20 years, he left in 2006 to devote all his time to writing and lecturing. Throughout his career, he has been active in networking and church planting and has helped in the development of several new churches.

The face of global Christianity has changed, McLaren stresses, and that reality needs to be addressed. Instead of white males dominating churches, pastors are increasingly people of color, including women. He notes that Africa, Asia, and Latin American have more Christians than North America.

Cedar Ridge Community Church, part of McLaren's legacy, celebrates diversity in its values statement. CRCC makes a conscious effort to avoid the "looks like me" comfort zone of many traditional churches.

McLaren and his wife Grace live in Florida. They have four adult children.

(Information in this article was compiled and summarized from the following sources: brianmclaren.net, Cedar Ridge Community Church, The PoMoblog.com, Leadership Journal, BeliefNet, Christianity Today, and CARM.org.)

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