Brian McLaren presents himself as all embracing as far as religions are concerned. In his latest book, Finding Our Way Again, his major premise is that we can go back to the middle ages and extract all the various mystical practices from Roman Catholicism (which are now being euphemistically termed “contemplative”) and throw them all together in a subjective stew in any manner and proportion that suits our spiritual fancy and come out just fine. If only he had gone back a little further and connected with the Apostles! The dark ages have nothing to offer us but dead traditions however there is life in God’s Word.
One thing that is very obvious in all of McLaren’s writings is that he is not as really all embracing as he pretends to be. No way. He selectively embraces. There is one bogey man that seems to always stand in his way. This scourge to spiritual progress and the group that always has his disdain are simply called “fundamentalists.” Nothing is ever laid out in detail but only vague allusions and general terms are put forth when it comes to these folk. The way they are described one would think they carry both AIDS and the Bubonic plague. As I mentioned he misleads by providing no distinctions or definitions but only vague generalities. These awful “fundamentalists” (or rather funny-mentalists) are card carrying nuts. They include suicide bombers, cultists, fanatics and especially those that insist on taking the Bible seriously. These turn out to be any that might strongly disagree with Mr. McLaren. Bible believing evangelicals are also part of this evil cabal if one can really believe that.
According to McLaren in Finding Our Way Again all religions have let us down (and he may be partially right). He then adds that this religious collapse and replacement by secularism has led to:
“a growing dissatisfaction with all the above — premodern religion, institutional religion, and modern secularism. This dissatisfaction in some cases has led to a reactionary resurgence of pushy fundamentalism- fearful, manic, violent apocalyptic. And in some cases it has led to a search for a new kind of spirituality….more and more of us are realizing that a warm but mushy spirituality is no match for a pushy fundamentalism, of whatever religious variety, especially when that fundamentalism is well armed, dangerous and in the mood for apocalypse,” (Finding Our Way Again page 5).
Dispensationalists or those looking for the “blessed hope” might be branded as “in the mood for apocalypse” with just a bit of effort. McLaren makes no distinction between fundamentalists and fundamentalists. No distinction between fundamental Bible believers and radical; crazed Islamic fundamentalist bombers. You would think that Jim Jones and a conservative evangelical are one and the same. This is surely either ignorance or willful dissembling.
To read these lines one would think that all fundamentalists are created equal, that is, that they are all wild eyed and dangerous. He has stated that “whatever religious variety:” they happen to be they are to be feared. Surely McLaren has heard of Scholarly Fundamentalism. He claims to know about and be well aware of Church History as he endorses the so called ancient future faith (aka Roman Catholic mystical practices). Is he really ignorant of Scholarly Fundamentalism in his polemic against all fundamentalists? McLaren’s polemic is a great hindrance to serious discussion. McLaren seems to have a disdain for history unless it is history that supports his subjective and erratic choices.
Gordon Wenham nailed it when he said:
“I suspect that if either you [a student] or your lecturers discover during your study that you are a Sabellian montanist or a semi pelagian Gnostic, it will not cause over-much excitement. Such deviants are common place today and in this pluralistic society are usually accepted without much fuss. However should you be diagnosed as a fundamentalist your fate may be very different. In the modern theology faculty fundamentalism is the great heresy. It is regarded as nearly as dangerous as the HIV virus and is treated with similar fervor but with rather less tact and sympathy. Fundamentalists will find themselves denounced in lectures and tutorials” (Quoted in Biblical Hermeneutics by Gerhard Maier).
Why is McLaren ignoring and by passing the Scholarly Fundamentalists? Is he knowingly ignorant of them? In 1909, 12 volumes were released. These were called the Fundamentals. These tomes were funded by the Lyman brothers who were the founders of BIOLA the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. These books were a compilation of the writings and research of the finest Bible scholars of that day. The contributors included intellectual and spiritual giants like G. Campbell Morgan, H. C. G. Moule, James Orr, A. T. Pierson, R. A. Torrey and B. B. Warfield. They seriously held back the onslaught of destructive critical research coming out of Europe. The term fundamentalist (well revered) was coined in 1920. Fundamentalists constantly appealed to the Bible, Jesus and the Apostles and upheld the highest standards of systematic theology. Princeton scholars like J. Greshem Machen were proud to be called fundamentalists. They upheld the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures. They were the continuing historical link to the Reformation. Although McLaren makes room for all kinds of Roman Catholic teaching for the fundamentalists there is no room in McLaren’s inn. He needs to get honest and admit to a vital historical scholarly fundamentalism. They do not deserve a bad rap or just being ignored.
While McLaren has been writing his books and raising questions to plant doubt our Church has been involved personally and financially with those he views as awful fundamentalists who have been doing all the heavy lifting for many years before anyone on the national church scene even heard of Brian McLaren. While McLaren tears down truth while never declaring himself doctrinally we have been supporting those going into AIDS facilities in New York City with gifts and the gospel. We have been helping fund the building of a clinic in Cambodia for a tribal people. We have sent funds and helped workers in Durbin South Africa where 50% of the population is HIV positive. We have been raising funds for a clean water project in Haiti and supporting a children worker in Arab Nazareth Israel and that is only the beginning. There are many more.
We need to call McLaren to begin to distinguish between things that differ and stop the confusion and the name calling. Fundamentalist Christians are not the enemy McLaren makes them out to be. In the end the enemies of fundamental Bible believers may be the real enemy after all. I do not own a pilot’s license and tall buildings do not interest me but I am tired of McLaren misleading.