McLaren Just Killed Santa Claus

So I just finished the third book of Brian McLaren’s trilogy (The Last Word and the Word After That) and my brain hurts.

Here’s the best way to describe what I’m feeling right now: I’m nine years old and it’s December 20. I’ve known for oh, about five years that there really is no such person as Santa Claus, but everybody in the family has always talked the jolly elf up every year, and I’m not about to declare “the emperor has no clothes on” for fear that the goodies won’t be under the tree on Christmas morning if I don’t play along with the game! But now someone comes along and suggests something outrageous: What if we could have an even better Christmas without Santa Claus? What is there’s something better than presents that are broken within a week? (Better than presents? How scary is that?)

Who out there has read all three of these books? I would value your feedback! I feel like I’ve been holding my breath and just playing along with everyone else for 35 years for fear of being banned a heretic.


62 thoughts on “McLaren Just Killed Santa Claus

  1. aly hawkins

    Santa Claus is a pretty apt analogy — with his endless lists of naughty and nice, his existence is an almost-surefire way to keep the kiddies in line.

    I think McLaren’s third book is a good starting point for investigating the orthodoxy (or not) of hell, but not a great stopping point, especially if you’re planning on chatting with any semi-pro theologians (i.e., Michael) on the topic. For me, the best part of the book was not the questions it raised about the existence of hell, but the questions it raised about the nature of salvation. What exactly are we saved FROM, and what exactly are we saved TO? Modern evangelicalism has (often) made salvation about a rescue from hell: “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go?” That question is so far off the point as to be ridiculous. Much like “If Santa Claus were to come tonight, would you get a Red Rider BB Gun or a lump of coal?”

  2. aly hawkins

    FYI, McLaren makes some truly great stabs at answering the “What exactly is salvation?” question in The Secret Message of Jesus. The NKOC trilogy is all about articulating the questions at the heart of the emerging church — which I think is super important — but questions without answers (even tentative and uncertain answers) cannot sustain the human soul. If you’re not McLarened-out, I highly recommend The Secret Message…it has changed me more than all his other books combined. (And I like all of ‘em.)

  3. James

    I’ve read all 3 of the ANKOC books, and A Generous Orthodoxy, More Ready than You Realize, and Secret Message of Jesus… basically I got hooked on McLaren’s books after I read the first ANKOC book. Personally, I was kind of drifting spiritually without a direction, a bunch of unanswered theology quandaries, and not many places to turn. It wasn’t so much that the books answered my questions, but each one brought me a new way of looking at things, which in turn allowed me to answer my own questions. So with The Last Word and The Word After That, for me the biggest thing was to stop using the microscope when looking at the doctrine of Hell, and instead look at why people were so concerned about it. In other words, to me Hell became an illustration of life outside the presence of God, a state we do not live in currently despite our many efforts at times to ignore Him. Heaven and Hell stopped being literal places for me, and life no longer became a transitory existence where the whole point was to get yourself to a position so you could end up in the right place after you die to avoid suffering (which I always felt was a horrible line of thinking). I think the final ANKOC installment is a great starting point to emphasize the polar opposite views of a redemption message built on fear, and a message built on love.

    And yes, I think the moment I read the first ANKOC book, and with each subsequent book, I would come to some kind of revelation about what gave me that constant feeling of being an outsider in the church. Plus, then I would feel that maybe I wasn’t alone in my “heretical” understanding of The Message.

  4. harmonicminer

    So, actually Aly, regarding this is the appropriate question:

    ““If Santa Claus were to come tonight, would you get a Red Rider BB Gun or a lump of coal?”

    It really all depends on whether Santa Claus actually exists, or not.

    And, if Santa Claus exists, it depends on whether Santa Claus actually has presented the question in those terms. Can you trust what Santa Claus seems to be saying? Can you UNDERSTAND what Santa Claus has said? What are the appropriate tools a person needs in order to understand what Santa Claus has said to others in the past?

    That is, of course, the point in dispute in some quarters.

    An observation: any attempt to analogize what God’s revelation is to anything like Santa Claus is really “so far off the point as to be ridiculous”. No one ever said Santa Claus created the universe, or provided a moral structure for the human beings that Santa Claus created, or sacrificed anything for their welfare….

    So it makes a funny one liner… but that’s it.

    It really all depends on the revelation, at this point (not the book of Revelations, the entire Bible and traditions flowing from church history). Or I suppose you could try to defend the “sola scriptura” position. Good luck with that.

    In the meantime, for all that a major critique of the emerging church (EC) against tradition is that it is so culturally bound, it is the EC that is every bit as culturally bound in postmodernism. Which is funny: because postmodernists mostly explicitly do NOT subscribe to any theory of cultural “progress”… in fact, their word for that is “triumphalism”, a clear pejorative…. so what in the world makes them think that postmodernism is closer to “truth” than some much older perspectives, which have lasted a good deal longer, and through many more philosophical and cultural expressions, than postmodernism has… yet, anyway.

    You’d think they believe postmodernism represents progress, or something… and of course, that postmodern cultural expressions are “better”.

    God revealed himself.

    Or He didn’t, and wants us to guess.

    If He did, we have to figure out what it means, as best we can. Our single best guide is scripture. A very distant second is philosophy (unless you want to claim that philosophy always preceeds revelation, because of the need to interpret… but that’s a bit like claiming philosophy preceeds language. This is mostly a problem for people who don’t really think words mean things.). Not too far behind philosophy is science.

    I certainly don’t claim to understand the many seeming paradoxes in scripture, and I’m willing to listen to lots of possibilities. I don’t think the traditional churches have it all right, or anything. How could they? They disagree on many things.

    But it’s just crucial, especially from a postmodernist point of view, to look behind what people say to find their presuppositions. Just as soon as you point me to some ECers who have any influence in the movement who don’t spend most of their time complaining about how culturally bound the rest of us are (but fail to acknowledge their own rootedness in postmodernism as being every bit as suspicious, and then ACT LIKE IT), I’ll take it more seriously.

    Having said all that: I must admit I haven’t read the McLaren books. I’ve been reading McGrath instead… again. Didn’t get it all the first time. :-) So what I’m really responding to here is what people who are enthusiasts (like some of you here) say about McLaren, and his influence on their lives.

    I know, I know… that’s too much like reading theologians without reading the Bible… and I’ll remedy it… just as soon as I finish the current McGrath book.

    So, Aly… which McLaren book should I read first? And second? And third?

  5. aly hawkins

    Phil – I’ll write more after work, but I needed to say that “If Santa Claus were to come tonight…” IS ridiculously beside the point if the question that really matters is “What is Christmas?” It doesn’t matter whether Santa exists or not — he doesn’t have anything to do with the Incarnation, which is why we celebrate Christmas.

    The same goes for hell. It may or may not exist — but the answer to its existence has little to do with the question “What is salvation?” …even though the EV church has made the threat of hell the primary motivation for seeking salvation. In the same way that Santa has become more important than God at Christmas, hell has become more important than God at salvation. It doesn’t matter whether or not they exist; they have become the impoverished and easy answers to rich and difficult questions.

  6. harmonicminer

    Hey Aly… recommend the order of reading list for me, when you can.

    My point about Santa: God revealed himself. Santa didn’t.

    Santa is legend. God isn’t… at least, I think we’re assuming not, right?

    It boils down, still, to how we see the revelation, what we think it does or doesn’t say, etc. What do we think the words mean in the scripture? And, if you’re a POMO/EC type…. does it matter what the words actually say?

    Santa has no scripture… only a tradition.

    It’s just a misleading metaphor.

  7. aly hawkins

    I think we’re writing past each other. Skip my metaphor if it doesn’t make sense to you. I’m not married to it.

    Is the main point of God’s revelation of himself so that people can avoid hell? I don’t believe it is. I’m basing this belief on one of the primary modes of God’s revelation (the Bible), a careful reading of which reveals a negligible percentage of space devoted to hell, and most of that metaphoric in nature.

  8. phil

    Hmm.. it is believed by (I think) a majority of Bible scholars (including many relatively conservative ones) that the notion of Hell is not particularly developed in the Old Testament. It seems to have become more important during the later periods just before NT times.

    On the other hand: there are many other ideas near and dear to Christians which also were not as thoroughly developed in the OT as in the NT… so I’m not sure that means much.

    I suppose one question is, did the early believers believe in Hell? Those who had not just scripture, but a tradition of teaching coming to them of just a few decades? Like, “when I was young, I knew a guy who heard Paul (or Peter) speak, and here’s what he said”…

    Percentage of space isn’t the issue: it’s clarity of teaching, and self-consistency when the teaching is mentioned. Hell is mentioned many times in the NT. Are those mentions consistent with each other in implication? That’s the point of discussion, of course.

    I’d REALLY like to know what Peter/Paul thought about it. We have what they wrote.

    I’d like to know more about what the early church writers had to say on the topic… surely there is some value in seeing what they believed, being much closer to the tradition as well as the text.

  9. aly hawkins

    Yes, clarity of teaching and self-consistency are very important. But percentage of space is ALSO important if I’m trying to find out the answer to the bigger question “What is salvation?” Paying attention to how frequently or infrequently hell figures into the biblical conversation about redemption and salvation, or how great an emphasis is put on salvation from hell when compared with salvation from sin or with salvation to the kingdom of God, is indicative of how important or unimportant hell is to the topic.

    I’d say your McLaren reading order depends on your interest. If you’re looking to find out the questions at the heart of the EC, you should start with the A New Kind of Christian trilogy (as I mentioned). They are written as fictional dialogues between a struggling pastor and a science teacher/friend. The writing is not stellar, but the books work somehow — story matters.

    If you’re more interested in finding out some (not all) of the answers that are being tossed around in response to those questions, I’d go with The Secret Message of Jesus first (though Ash & I call it “N.T. Wright for the everyman,” so you may want to go to the source, perhaps Simply Christian, Wright’s newest).

    I think it’s important to say here that Brian McLaren is not a spokesman for me or for many who self-identify as “emerging.” I like him lots and lots and lots because he puts words around ideas I’ve already been thinking about, and he explores ideas with the posture of a fellow seeker. But I don’t agree with every gold-dripping word that proceedeth from the tip of his pen. He’s trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus, just like the blessed rest of us.

  10. Chad

    I’ll echo that. I’ve been greatly stimulated by McLaren, but I don’t agree with everything he’s ever said.

  11. aly hawkins

    Just as soon as you point me to some ECers who have any influence in the movement who don’t spend most of their time complaining about how culturally bound the rest of us are (but fail to acknowledge their own rootedness in postmodernism as being every bit as suspicious, and then ACT LIKE IT), I’ll take it more seriously.

    I feel like I point to Scot McKnight like every ten minutes, but I’ll do so again in answer to your challenge. Read him and tell me what you think. He’s starting yet another of his in-depth series, this time on inclusivism, exclusivism, pluralism etc. in the emerging church.

  12. betsy

    Phil –
    I’ve read all of McLaren except the Secret Message – and I think you could start with Generous Orthodoxy, or (this is an odd choice but here it is-) More Ready Than You Realize, a book about evangelizing postmoderns. Both lay out some central ideas clearly.

  13. june

    “He doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, he loves you just the same, Santa Claus knows we’re all God’s children, that makes everything right…”

    I thought of this discussion when I overheard these lyrics (Here comes Santa Claus) this afternoon. I’m sure this clears everything up.

    No need to thank me…always glad to be of help.

  14. James

    Moving away from the McLaren book track, a great book that kind of cover the whole inclusivism concept and a new approach to forming a Christian community, I would highly recommend John Burke’s No Perfect People Allowed. Or for a constructive criticism of why a large population of 18-35 year olds are so frustrated with church, check out Sarah Cunningham’s Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation. Although, I will say the book is not just an endless tirade from a twentysomething, it contains real concerns, ownership of some of the issues, and reasons why she in particular has not given up and is working for change.

    Neither of these books, that I recall at the moment, directly deal with the issue of hell — but they do get at the heart of the issue when it comes to salvation and that fundamental “what does it look like to live as a Christian” question.

    As for McLaren, say what you will about whether you agree with his views on anything he writes about, at least credit him one thing: his willingness to tackle controversial or taboo topics of Christianity publicly no matter what level of criticism is thrown at him in the wake of it. It at least starts the conversation in many circles…

  15. harmonicminer

    Aly, just a note to thank you for the link to the Scot McKnight discussion on salvation. It is fascinating, and I will follow it with some interest.

    But if you’re going to use the word “saved” in a new sense (saved “to”), could I humbly ask that you find another word? “Saved” seems always to take and object of a “from”, not a “to”. Whenver it’s used without that object, it is always clear from context what the danger is that something/someone is being saved FROM.

    I think it abuses the word… and obscures the meaning of what you’re trying to say… and suggests to me that you’re confusing “salvation” with something else, some other objective, likely a very valid one, but something that is maybe the fruit of salvation, not the cause of it or the basis of it.

    We need another word.

    Or, maybe you can find some other senses of the word “saved” in common speech (or uncommon) that support your usage.

    Again thanks for the link, and also that other Scot M. paper you posted in the ASIDES sometime back.

    I’m struggling to find time to read McLaren right now. In the midst of Christmas arranging… but I’m going to read it, and I’ll try to read it “generously”…

  16. grammy Post author

    Phil, how about “recycled”?

    Recycling — “The reprocessing of materials into new products. Recycling prevents useful material resources being wasted.”

  17. harmonicminer


    New song titles for the hymnal that worship teams don’t use:

    Jesus Recycles

    Amazing Recycling

    Jesus Recycles the Little Children
    (that sounds a touch grim)

    Onward Recycled Soldiers

    Nearer my Recycler to Thee

    Well…. I never was much of a lyricist.

  18. betsy

    Things are indeed ‘saved from’ stuff – hell, the recycling bin…but they’re also ‘saved for’ things. I’m saving that money for retirement, and that chicken leg for lunch.

    But that’s unsatisfying, in that it implies current inactivity – I can’t use that money, or that chicken leg, now, and have it later too.

    If chicken legs are for eating, I’m kind of twarting it from fulfilling its purpose now by ‘saving it for’ later. (We could argue whether the chicken leg is actually for eating, as opposed to chicken transportation, but just stick with me on this one.)

    So what is a soul saved for? Heaven? God’s glory? Kingdom? Good works already prepared? “Saved for” doesn’t really capture the ‘fully alive’ aspect of living in God right now. (I have always thought that the most interesting part of eternal life is that it has already started.) I think there must be a better word.

  19. harmonicminer

    Run for cover… I’m almost done with Generous Orthodoxy (it was the only one I could find as a downloadable mp3… and the only time I had was while driving… but printed books are such a modernist thing, anyway… the oral tradition is just so much more, uh, authentic).

    I’m sure I’ll be full of not quite boiled opinions, though that vapor pressure is creeping up there. See, I kept a lid on it for awhile… that always makes it boil sooner.

    Questions in my mind at the moment:

    If Jesus is so all-fired determined for earthly peace, do I take it He was just looking the other way when David was killing Goliath in a duel? Or God was ordering the wholesale death of citystates/peoples (to be blunt, ethnic cleansing, and not the deportation variety, either)? What did McLaren mean when he said “allegedly” regarding God’s orders in this direction? Ooh, scary.

    If Jesus was so determined that the main work was earthly, involving relief of human suffering, and if that work was the main point, why didn’t he do that Himself? Healing is for shamans. The root causes of most suffering were/are poverty and abuse of power, not simple disease and demon possession. He could certainly have organized a wealth redistribution system among the fisherfolk and farmers/shepherders. He certainly had some influence on a few rich, well connected people. He was certainly clever enough to do this without raising Roman ire. He certainly knew more about economic recovery than Milton Friedman. I’m pretty sure He could have made the crops grow just a LITTLE better in Palestine, and the fish breed just a LITTLE faster, and all without giving away the fact that He was “cooking the books” ecologically, so that people would have had their personal experiences of working hard and doing the moral thing with the wealth so generated. Why three years of yammering at strangers, instead of getting involved in the life of a community, and really showing them how to live? Knowing how hard it is to get people to do anything good in a group, the cross is starting to look like an easy way out. (If a particular room in a particular house in Pinon Hills disappears in a bolt of lightning, I guess you know why.)

    I’m just askin’… if the real deal is OUTCOME based human action (and how else will you evaluate what you think needs to be done? If you have some concept of “justice” that you think isn’t being done, there’s an “outcome” you see now that you don’t like), these are serious questions. They all boil down to some version of the problem of evil, which has different potential answers for us lowly fallen folk than for Him.

    He could have arranged for the 100 (or 1000!) biggest abusers of power in Palestine to come to untimely ends, and encouraged the replacements to act better (all it would take is a little tweak of a few brain chemical/electrical states, right? Who’s to know?). Sounds harsh…. but hey, He could have sent the former creeps on to heaven (to make up for cutting short their earthly opportunity to make moral choices), so they wouldn’t mind it much after the fact, right? (I can hear it all now. Herod: “Damn it all, God, why’d you stick me with this lousy harp? Why aren’t there any lane markers painted on the streets of gold? And what’s up with the radar fed “YOUR SPEED IS …” sign? I wanna go back to my unairconditioned, dusty, pest ridden palace, and eat food prepared by people who hate me, and drink water that may kill me… again.” Probably not.)

    If Jesus was mostly talking to the “powerful causers of the problem”, not the “poor victims” of it, then it starts to look like the ones who really needed forgiveness were relatively few….

    ‘Scuse me while I go put on some rubber soled shoes.

  20. Sheila

    Yikes. I’m going back to the “15 Hymns in 15 Days” section. It’s much more “relational”, which is what Christianity is defined as for me.

  21. harmonicminer

    Hmmm… relational is good.

    So, I’m watching the Power Puff Girls Christmas special… and Santa Claus just put Princess Morebucks on the PERMANENTLY NAUGHTY LIST!!! That sounds just a little bit like that, er, possibly mythological place mentioned above….

    Maybe there *is* something to this whole Santa Claus thing….

    Why can’t they leave a nice cartoon alone?

  22. grammy Post author

    Phil, it’s time to progress on to McLaren’s book, “The Secret Message of Jesus”! :-)

  23. harmonicminer

    Too busy deconstructing Scot McKnight at the moment.

    Just for laughs: am I the only one who is entertained when he expresses such outrage at the use by the ignorami of the term “emergent” when they REALLY should be using “emerging”?

    Arguing over the meaning of a suffix: when modernists do it, pomos smile indulgently, with their secret knowledge that words don’t really mean all that much, except what the users or receivers (mostly the receivers) *think* they mean.

    And all the chatter about emerging *conversation*, not emerging *church*… that’s flat silly, coming from folks who believe more in “orthopraxy” (not about conversation, what words mean, or what we should believe) than “orthodoxy” (all about conversation, what words mean, and what we should believe). Why would anyone care what we call it, unless they DO have a specific belief about just what a “church” is, to which they are ideologically committed? How orthodox of them.

    The more I read right now, the harder I find it to take any of it seriously. I diverted on a book by Rob Bell, “Velvet Elvis”. Some of my friends have liked it… but I’ve found it more than a bit mushy and pretentious, confusing substance and clarity with style and presentation, and confusing analogy with actual reasoning. There is a reason why titles of books are mostly on the front cover, right side up. .em tsuj s’ti erus m’I. C’mon, loosen up.

    “Secret Message of Jesus” will arrive soon, I think, and some others.

    While I wait, I confess to wondering just how emerging lots of 20-30 somethings will be when their kids are attending public high school in about 15 years… give or take. I find myself wondering if they’ll be quite so, uh, tolerant of various perspectives on very many things. I’m sure some will. But the jury is so far out that the reporters have gone home for the weekend, I think.

    In the meantime, I’ll think I’ll reread “America Alone” by Mark Steyn (if the last person I loaned it to will give it back… you know who you are), and contemplate the demographic realities of the world, and particular segments of culture. Steyn has a characteristic that no pomo/EC writer I’ve seen has exhibited, so far… the ability to write in such a way that even if you instinctively disagree with nearly every assertion, you will be captivated by the sheer rhetorical brilliance (and supremely successful satire) in nearly every paragraph. So far, people to whom I’ve given the book have raved (and I only give it to people who I know will at least start out in disagreement with it… why waste my money on those who already “get it”?).

    Be brave, give it a shot… read it, if you dare, and have the nerve to read someone who has facts you probably don’t, and can present them and connect them, and make you laugh while you’re embarrased for being entertained.

    Do emerging folks get married and raise families larger than one child? Has anyone done any demographic study of the emerging, especially with regard to fecundity? I’ve been skulking around the web looking for it…. no joy so far. You wanna know how Baptists and Nazarenes compare to ELCA members? The info is there…. and says exactly what you’d guess. But I can’t find anything on marriage/breeding habits of the emerging. What, you say you never thought about that, and don’t think it matters? Shows what you know.

    Are there any emerging conversations going on in Teheran right now? There was once a LOT of Christian orthopraxy there… where’d it go?

    If anybody really wants to talk, I put some questions about “Gen Orth” in a previous post. Slightly tongue in cheek… but they are real questions, I think. I’d be curious to know if anyone wants to discuss any of them.

    Michael, if you slogged through all this: can you do anything to make the font in the comment window darker for those of us afflicted by prespyopia?

    No lightning bolts yet… either of divine retribution or sudden understanding. Still wearing those rubber soled shoes…. just in case.

  24. Melody

    Harmonic, you are missing the boat on Rob Bell if you aren’t reading his latest book, “SEX GOD”. I know that Mr. Bell is too spiritual to be gratuitous but I’ll peak your interest with a few of his chapter titles:

    Chapter 1: God Wears Lipstick
    Chapter 2: Sexy On The Inside
    Chapter 4: Leather, Whips, And Fruit
    Chapter 9: Whoopee Forever

  25. harmonic miner

    Is the book misnamed? Is it supposed to be “SEX GOOD”?

    Just wondering.

    Some years ago a student gave me a philosophy of music for a 20th Century Music Lit assignment, in which she analogized orgasm to music. It wasn’t a come on, she was serious.

    But I wasn’t buying it.

    She got divorced, later, from her musician husband, who obviously wasn’t buying it either. Or maybe he was.

    In any case, I await with baited breath the sequel.




    and the denouement


    Are you intoxicated by the Spirit?

  26. Melody

    Chad, the book is written for jr. high to high school kids and is pretty surface level spiritually. Basically, he says we should be nice to all people and have respect for their humanity. What I find distasteful is the cheap sexual tittilation used in the book’s title and chapter heads in order to sell the thing. If that’s what we must resort to in order to tell people about Jesus and help them in their Christian walk, something is terribly wrong don’t you think?

  27. Chad


    Melody, we disagree not-so-much on McLaren, but I have a feeling that a discussion of Rob Bell might lead to virtual blows.

    I think my father, the physician and published author, confidant and advisor to James Dobson, put it best when he said that Sex God was the most coherent, thoughtful meditation on Christian Monogamy that he had ever read.

    I wholeheartedly agree.

    What about the spirituality did you find surface-level? I was personally engaged by his discussion of the Jewish Chuppah, and what it represented in that culture, and how the idea of it has been disregarded in our current culture.

    I often hear cirtics of Bell refer to him as surface level, and it just astonishes me, if I’m being honest. His podcasts have really been a lifeline to me in the vacuous spiritual wasteland that has become mainstream evangelical teaching. I’ve never heard a pastor who engages the text with more passion and zeal.

  28. Chad

    BTW, “Cheap titillation” is a phrase that smacks of personal taste being confused with absolute truth, which is my oft recurring and most strongly held opinion about the critics of emerging folks.

    As one of McLaren’s characters pointed out to a group of pious, reserved church ladies in one of his New Kind of Christian books, something along the lines of, “Most of you would have been regarded by the heros of the reformation as common streetwalkers with your current dress.”

  29. Chad


    So… I’ve enjoyed the civil discourse on this topic thus far, and I think my last comment may have been of the tit-for-tattish variety.

    Sorry. :(

  30. harmonic miner

    “Sex God … the most coherent, thoughtful meditation on Christian Monogamy that he had ever read”

    OK, now I’m actually curious. Is the book really gonna measure up to that? I’ve heard some pretty coherent, thoughtful presentations on the topic…

    Maybe I’ll download it and listen while I drive.

  31. michael lee

    I’ve actually been meaning to read it. I thought about adding it to the Christmas wish list that goes out to the family, but I’m not sure I want to have the conversation with my Mother-in-law explaining the title.

  32. harmonic miner

    I just listened to a little bit of it on

    He actually reads the book himself. His voice is a little annoying, about like the kids who used to get beat up on the playground in elementary school…

    But I suppose I could deal with it long enough to get the gist of it all.

    But I’m still holding out for BEER GOD. “For those who hunger and especially thirst after righteousness shall be filled.”

  33. Melody

    Chad said:

    “…“Cheap titillation” is a phrase that smacks of personal taste being confused with absolute truth…” I might reverse the statement to say that absolute truth is being confused with personal taste.

    Webster’s dictionary describes ‘titillation’ as a transitive verb meaning
    “to excite pleasurably : arouse by stimulation”.

    If that isn’t the point of the title and chapters of this book, then what is the point of them? All of this is sort of a ‘bait and switch’ to get the reader to be intrigued enough to pick up the book and buy it. It’s kind of like the girl who dresses like a slut to get a boy’s attention and then protests when he actually thinks she is ‘that kind of girl’.

    There is a commonly implied meaning to the suggestion that ‘God Wears Lipstick’ (chapter 1) and even my jr. high students would know what it is. The fact that there is a touching story at the end of the chapter which clarifies the chapter title, evidences the trick. At this point the reader probably gets it that the rest of the exciting chapter titles don’t hold the promise he’d hoped. But hey, we’re all just human.

  34. Chad


    In my opinion, the only thing in your previous post that wasn’t your personal opinion is the definition of the word “Titillation”.

    According to Webster’s definition of that word that you supplied for us, I can assure you that I found the book in no way titillating. The artwork was subdued, unorthodox, and classy. If my memory serves me, I believe that there were no graphic descriptions of sexuality or specific sexual practices, or anything else that struck me as remotely titillating.

    Words or phrases that I would use to describe the chapter titles: thought-provoking, ironic, amusing, tongue-in-cheek. Yes, they were attention grabbing, but not titillating.

    Now, there are many in the contemporary church who are using titillation (sexually speaking) to market themselves. Ingrid over at Slice loves to document mega-churches using sexually provocative imagery to drum up controversy and interest their sermon series. Is it possible that you’re mixing Rob Bell up with that sort of practice?

    Is it possible that this book just simply doesn’t do it for you? Is it possible that you have opinions that are valid, and so do I, and that they are simply not connected to Biblical truth, which is not subject to either of our opinions, but is chock full of guidelines about how people within the church with differing opinions are to behave towards one another? I don’t need to reference passages, because you and I both know what I’m talking about.

    The raddest thing about this argument is that you pooh pooh a book that God used to convict me and lead me towards repentance in some unhealthy and ungodly behaviors towards my spouse. Rob Bell is DANGEROUS, PEOPLE! He makes you want to be more Christlike towards your wife!


  35. Chad


    Melody… I want you to know that there are things about the emerging movement that alarm me. I do not attend an emerging church. I do not believe God’s truth is subject to my opinion.

    However, I also do not believe it’s subject to yours, and I believe people in the anti-emerging crowd have a hard time with that. In fact, I think that most conservative Baby Boomers (please forgive and correct me if my generational assumptions are incorrect) are particularly bitter, and dare I say ungracious in this conversation, having witnessed all the upheaval around them when they were college-and-beyond aged.

    Sorry to drag you into this, Phil, but I hear you (and lots of other conservative christian boomers) making statements like, “We already dealt with that idea and kicked it out the door!” I hear these statements all the time. Elders. Pastors. Lay leaders. On the interwebs. It’s not my imagination.

    Statements like that make me ask 3 questions:

    1. How self centered is your generation that you think you get to ask all the questions, and that your generation has the corner on the answers or lack-there-of?

    2. How lame is it, that if your generation indeed asked and answered all these existential questions, that you’ve failed as a generation to pass along your wisdom in a way that helps my generation avoid the same intellectual pitfalls?

    3. Isn’t it in some way reassuring that my generation (and the ones following) are still asking out of the box, difficult, and even borderline heretical questions about God? Isn’t there something reassuring about His power that knowing Him beckons even the young skulls full of mush all around us? Isn’t the Holy Spirit powerful enough to meet us and correct and admonish us just like every other generation? What the hell made you so special?

    I’m not interested in your opinion on the truth, or mine. I don’t give a golden turd about John Calvin’s opinion, Martin Luther’s opinion, the Pope’s, Rob Bell’s, Billy Graham’s, John Macarthur’s, or Joel Osteen’s. If Calvin and Luther were such hot spit, why are we still having this conversation? Shouldn’t the ideas of the Reformation still be carrying the day?

    I’m only interested in God’s truth. Period.

  36. Melody

    Chad, you win. Sorry to have made you so mad. You did ask me for my thoughts and I freely gave them to you. I did not attack you or what you believe, I merely stated my opinion (which you asked for). It seems that you get extremely angry whenever someone thinks differently about an issue than you do. Why is that? I can’t speak for Phil {actually, I could since we are of the same generation and I can fully speak for them all } but I don’t have a problem with people who disagree with me; no, not even you. Time for a brewsky (or in my case, an iced tea).

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  37. Chad


    I did ask you for your thoughts, and you did give them. I hope you’ll continue to give them, and I hope that I can continue to grow in my understanding of how I can respond in a way that more effectively coaxes dialog.

    I am sorry if my response seemed angry or like it’s a win / lose thing. I don’t believe I attacked you personally, or Phil for that matter. I like and respect Phil quite a bit. He was one of my most influential professors while I was at APU. I like having you hang out at this blog, I think it’s sharpening all parties. I did make some generalized statements about the Baby Boomer generation that were not favorable. If you found that personally offensive, I apologize.

    There are several direct questions that I’ve asked you in this thread that have been deflected with sarcasm. That is indeed frustrating.

    “What about the spirituality (of the book) did you find surface-level?” for example. No direct response, but instead sarcasm about your Jr. High students and how even they know what the chapters are supposed to mean. That’s not an answer. You haven’t addressed the content of the book. You’ve addressed the reasoning behind why you find the chapter titles distasteful.

    I ask you again, have you read the book? If so, what about it (other then the chapter titles) did you find offensive. I’d really, really like to know. I really care what you think. It’s important to me to understand your thought process. Is it offensive that I am passionate? You regularly employ provocative language, yourself. Is turnabout not fair play?

    I engaged your post about the definition of the word titillate directly and forthrightly, did I not? When I felt like I had crossed the line of civility, I apologized to you and applauded this new direction that had been found in the dialog, did I not?

    What I didn’t do was insinuate that you needed an alcoholic beverage.

    That, my dear, made me angry.

  38. Melody

    Chad, I just don’t get all the angry stuff. I am not offended by a single thing you say. I never have been and probably will not ever be. As to the alcohol houmor, it had nothing to do with anything about you (or me either). It was just a light way to sign off. It wasn’t intended to evoke any response from you other than maybe a smile.

    Once again,

    Happy Thanksgiving

  39. Sharolyn

    Melody and Chad, I so appreciate both of your perspectives. Part of what can make me an uninteresting blogger is that I sit somewhere in between you, if that is possible. You have both caused me to reflect a great deal (Aly and others, too).

  40. harmonic miner

    Chad, here’s what bugs me about “emergent questions”:

    1) The pretense that they are new.

    flowing from that,

    2) The pretense that they are answerable.

    Without problem #1, we could dispense with all the post-modern chatter and trace historically what other people had to say, at which point we would most likely wind up not having problem #2, because we’d have learned from our study that smarter people than us have tried, and failed, not due to lack of smarts, but due to lack of data, of which we have no more than they.

    It’s OK, you get to be young in your time, and you get to ask the same questions again, if that’s what appeals to you. You can even pretend, along with too much of emergent folk, that #1 and #2 are both true.

    As far as questions go, I asked some doozies in my posts on this thread of Dec 20th, 2006 at 7:23 pm and Jan 18th, 2007 at 10:55 pm. They are central to the emergent “orthopraxy” trumps “orthodoxy” assertion. As long as you’re pointing out people who don’t answer questions you asked, I note that no one has taken the remotest swing at any of them. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, they seemed, at one point, to have ended the thread. Maybe it was my, uh, nasty tone again?

    It boils down in the end to the nature of the Trinity, the reliability of scripture, the problem of evil, and the nature of the kingdom we are supposed to be seeking (this last will flow directly out of our understandings of the first three, of course). Some very brilliant and inspired people have thought deep thoughts about these things, some centuries back, and one problem in the church is that we don’t know a bean about it, most of us.

    You may be surprised that I put “the nature of the Trinity” on this list. That’s because the emergent folk would mostly like to pretend the Old Testament isn’t there, except when they cherry pick verses on helping the poor. But if the Trinity is true, it is a sensible statement to say that Jesus ordered the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, not to mention the Amalekites and various other tites, kites, lites and twits. No one in emergent land seems prepared or willing to deal with this.

    Related to this, the emergents seem much to prefer the Gospels and sayings of Jesus to the Epistles, by and large. But several of the letters appear to predate the Gospels, and by the normal rules of historical research, should more accurately reflect the attitudes and perspectives of the earliest believers. After all, they were in circulation, and yet we have no documents by other writers saying, “Wait, Paul was all wet!” N.T.Wright’s attempts to re-interpret Paul notwithstanding, it is clear enough to me that Paul’s emphasis was 70-30 faith/thought/belief vs works/praxis/behavior. It is clear that to him, the latter flowed out the former, not vice versa.

    Of course, if scripture isn’t reliable, we can just pick and choose our favorite parts to fit our nice modern sensibilities about things. What’s REALLY funny about it is that the only way out for the emergents, if they believe the Bible is anywhere near being an accurate record of God’s dealings with people, seems to be cling to some form of dispensationalism, which is a theoretical position WAY before it has any “praxis” implications. Their other way out is simple enough… just don’t talk about it.

    I keep waiting for McLaren to break into a nice chorus of 76 Trombones.

    Oh, and Chad, just for the record….. I was no where NEAR “conservative” when I was a young person. I wasn’t sure if you were implying that, or not. At the time, I thought all the upheaval was cool and energizing, although I admit to having been quite depressed that I wasn’t going to live past the age of 50, since the Earth’s air and water would be permanently poisoned by then, and there was a new ice age on the way anyway, and we were overpopulating so much that half the world would starve by 2000, with the rest of us soon to be reduced to a Hobbesian state of affairs, if were were THAT lucky, after the nuclear holocaust (not clear if that would be from war or meltdowns, but one or the other was BOUND to kill us).

    Generations of music students have suffered under my gentle tutelage because I decided to major in music and only minor in math and physics, instead of vice versa, because physicists had a kind of original sin clinging to them for starting up all that damnable technology, and I didn’t want to just make better H bombs for Nixon or better plastics for DuPont, nasty polluting stuff that it is, and hey, we who are about to die need to have some fun.

    So to the extent that I am bitter, I am bitter about being lied to, and bitter that I wasn’t smart enough to see through the lies. I swallowed about 50 of ‘em, and I am still divesting myself of them at the rate of about 1 per year. And no, I’m not saying which one I finally got shut of this year, but boy, it’s a doozy.


    1) It isn’t MY generation that has the corner on the answers to the questions, or the lack of answers, it’s the hundred or so generations before us. Not that I’m all that impressed with most of them, but you take the bad with the good, I guess.

    2) You can’t pass along wisdom you don’t have.

    3) The fact that later generations care enough to ask questions, and hope for answers, gives me hope. But not that much… I don’t live on hope for how things are going to turn out in this world, in any short term way (say, the next millenium or so). Your thought about the Holy Spirit admonishing each generation is nice… but it is abundantly evident that not every generation has paid attention. Jury’s out on this one, too.

    Rob Bell is right about one thing: it IS all about sex. If you’re a rabbit, anyway.

  41. leoskeo

    Mr. Miner,

    While I do not disagree that much with some of your views shared here, I am wondering what you would have Chad or others do. Should they take yours and the rest of the most powerful, successful and selfish generation this country has ever known word for it? The answers your generation adopted have not opened the door for younger leaders to emerge. These questions wrestled with and either eventually ignored or answered, have not produced many leaders under the age 40.

    So are the questions new? Yes, to a new generation. Just like the Jesus movement thought they were new too. You have to remember that much of this countries faith history did not ask questions before the Jesus movement. And it was not as much the Jesus movement, trying to escape from something, as it was the Civil rights movement trying to accomplish something that wrestled with these questions.

    Which of your students in your class would you rob the joy of discovery of a question by saying… Oh I already asked that 30 years ago… A part of growing is asking questions that feel new and are phrased with new eyes, ears and surroundings.

    On the pretense that they are answerable… By your own words you are heavily invested in deconstructing the “lies you swallowed”… have a level of bitterness… and do not believe they can be answered. So no offense, if I were wrestling with these questions, I might not look to you as a guide.

    I think many of the questions emerging Christ followers wrestle with are the direct result of seeing the answers prior generations settled upon and not feeling like that is good enough for them or the kids they will produce. Their ability or inability to find answers will in my opinion be found in three keys.

    What will they do with their anger… The anger of man never brings about the kind of results God desires. A part of the appeal of McLaren is his seeming lack of anger.

    What will they do with truth… When I was a kid I took everything I could apart but put only a portion of it together correctly. My disassembly never gave me a better running watch, clock, radio, motor, microwave, computer…to name a few. Often I was left with extra parts, I did not know if they mattered or not… until what ever I was reassembling quit working.

    Truth verse what is true. There are something’s that are true but not necessarily truth. I do not like liver, this is true. Should everyone quit liking liver because In my life something is true? Heck no, how silly is that. Jesus Christ is God. Truth. Truth no matter how you chose to interact with it. One of the dilemmas of the church these past many years is we keep getting these mixed up. Just go read Slice of Laodicea if you need and example of this.

    Personally I have found some creeds helpful in isolating and clarifying truth from simply true.

    What rules will we apply to scripture interpretation… This in my mind is where McLaren and a few others have left the building. In McLaren’s own words he is a literature/English prof. who sees metaphor and hyperbole in the words of Christ. It is also how many in previous generations got the “less than satisfying answer” they have used to build the church. Biblical interpretation is essential if we are going to find answers as well as give answers. McLaren and Jones, and some others have decided they do not like the answers so that are adjusting the rules for interpretation to come up with answers that are more to their liking.

    I am not saying I have all the answers but I do know this. The few I have, have answered other questions I was asking. Jesus, the writers of the Old and New Testaments boiled it down to this… Love God with all your heart soul mind and strength, then love others like you love yourself. Not rocket science but dang hard to do. Especially if I make it so complicated that only an expert can fathom this. A real helpful thing in my life; focus on this and some of the questions I have get answered.

    I would say that Rob Bell for some seems shallow not because he is but because they do not get the language he speaks. Rob Bell appeals to a person who speaks the picture/mystery language. This is an empowering language because it has the appearance of giving answers and solving mysteries. I say appearance not because I don’t think he gives answers but because my experience with those who love him is that he illumines what is true and truth in a language they speak. For those who do not like him it is often because they are weary of the journey he takes in getting to the answer.

    It is human nature to love questions more than answers. The most powerful people in our culture today are the ones who ask the questions or who get us asking questions we might not have asked. This is how consumerism gets it hooks in all of us. If the Emerging church is going to impact our view of God’s kingdom in a healthy way, it must not love it’s questions more than the answers. This message is not approved by anyone and sorry for the soap box. Now about the sigh redesign.

  42. harmonicminer

    Thoughtful post, leoskeo.

    To clarify, it’s not that I mind anyone asking all the questions they want. Fine with me, and a necessary part of learning…. including maybe that there are no good answers to some of them. I suppose that’s where some faith in the essential goodness of God comes in. At the end of the day, I have to believe God is all good and all powerful, and accept that there are things beyond my perspective.

    I am less enthralled with people who should know better, who are still asking the SAME questions, over and over again, very old and well-addressed questions (not necessarily well-answered… not the same thing) as if the act of asking is somehow a more spiritual thing than making some decisions about what you believe, and acting on them.

    It is a sort of methodological agnosticism, if you will. Oh, they won’t SAY they’re agnostic… but if you just can’t come to any decision about who God is, and what God wants from us, and how reliable are the sources of revelation from God to us, and in fact whether that revelation is intended to be understood in a basic, historical way or not, and… well, you get the idea. Just because you feel comfortable using the word “God” in lots of your talk, does not make you a believer. There are LOTS of methodological agnostics floating around, who are so unsure of so many things that it really doesn’t matter much if they call themselves seekers or reekers.

    Maybe, once again, I’m just reflecting my own history here.

    There is a gray area here, of course…. Augustine’s “faith seeking understanding” is full of questioning and intellectual backflips, but it starts with the faith that some things are true, and we can know what some of them are, because God has revealed them to us.

    There are sects of “christianity” (small c) that use much of the same terminology as more or less orthodox Christianity, and you can read whole paragraphs of teaching, sometimes almost whole chapters, before running into something that lets you know that when they say GOD, they are talking about someone/something else entirely. I have that impression about some of the emergent, again because they simply ignore enormous parts of the revelation we have…. exactly as the “cults” do, who focus on some tiny part or other to the exclusion of all else.

    Christianity hinges on the Old Testament. Christ was the Jewish Messiah. If you buy the Trinity, then Christ was there all the time, through all the yucky stuff we don’t like to deal with. McLaren and company do not deal with this… they use terms like “allegedly” to refer to God’s clear instructions in the OT. If Christ is not God, you can evade all of that. But if Christ is not God to you, you are not a Christian.

    To put it simply, if you disconnect Christ from HIS WORKS AND WORDS all through the OT, then you have lost any thread of connection to the historical Jesus. Good luck with that.

    Many of the emergent seem to think of themselves as “Sermon on the Mount” Christians, while ignoring this part (following below), as they take all kinds of personal liberties:

    “”Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

    Some of the emergent should find the “and teaches others to do the same” part to be utterly chilling.

    And having said that, the Sermon on the Mount does not contain the core of the Christian message, because nowhere in it does Christ discuss HIMSELF, and His role in it all. One could imagine a particularly enlightened prophet delivering all those words. The Sermon is not the core of Christ’s importance to us, and the advice and commands it contains are about what we should DO, not about what we BELIEVE about HIM (which He addresses elsewhere), and because the emergent are all about DOING, and much less about BELIEVING, they naturally gravitate there.

    But Christ’s teachings about HIMSELF are the most important text in the Bible, and they require belief in order for any of the DOING to mean anything at all.

    Methodological agnostics have a tough time believing anything, but they’re nervous about that fact, and so hope they’ll be saved by DOING enough. In a very wierd way, much of EMERGENCE is a return to Pharasaic attitudes about the power of action, but with different practices.

  43. Chad


    Lots to interact with in your post (as usual). I’m glad you responded. I’ll try and respond with additional thoughts in the near future, (like when I’m not in my father-in-law’s garage, where he inexplicably keeps his computer) but I think you’ve raised a really important point and I, for one, want to acknowledge it.

    My generation is not raising new issues. I, for one, in the real world, am a staunch advocate for functional multi-generational worship. I cannot stand the idea of the traditional and contemporary service. BAH! If Gramma and Grampa and their kids and their kid’s kids are worshipping together, then that church is doing something right. I firmly believe this.

    I think you (and Melody, too) should just know that it’s been my experience that the conservative types of the boomer generation have struck me as particulary unwilling to engage in any of the emerging ideas or criticisms in a manner that seems constructive.

    You personally taught me things about music that you’ve learned years ago and taught every year for a long time before I was a student and the many (sigh) years since I was a student. I guess I wish that your generation could figure out a way to teach about a Christian life in the same manner that you taught me about Am11 chords.

    You were enthusiastic, nearly childlike. When any of us showed even remote, unguided, unfocused interest, you were drawn to our sides, applauding even the smallest improvements, and lovingly chastising repeated mistakes. Yes, I said lovingly. I remember sitting in your office, watching you look at my work. I don’t buy your gruff exterior. :)

    Why does it feel SO different with issues of faith? It’s not just you, Phil. I hope you don’t feel singled out. You and Mel take some flak around here because you two are the only ones hearty (foolhardy?) enough to engage the folks who hang out here with opposing opinions, and your personalities and intellects clearly merit that engagement.

    I have dealt with many strong, opiniated Christian men and women in the near decade since I was a student. They’re all good people, but the vast majority of them regard the questions raised by Aly, myself, and others in our generation the same way, with a mixture of annoyance, indignation, and dare I say… fear.

    It deeply saddens me to make this report. I have absolutely zero interest in chasing rabbit trails, or in creating a new and improved bubble that will only be burst by my children.

    I yearn to be discipled.

    Let me repeat myself. I, Chad C. Reisser, yearn for discipleship in the ways of Jesus of Nazareth from wise and godly men and women of faith.

    Where are the Rabbis? I had one, and then he went and schtooped another man’s wife and all hell broke loose for me. No man since has proven himself worthy of putting a bit in my mouth. I’m not a cheap date, when it comes to discipleship.


    All that to say: I repent of the idea that my generation is asking anything new. There is nothing new under the sun, and I believe that wholeheartedly.

    It’s actually an idea that’s comforting to me, to be honest.

  44. Melody

    Phil, your latest comments were exceptionally well spoken. This statement particularly resonated with me, “… the Sermon on the Mount does not contain the core of the Christian message, because nowhere in it does Christ discuss HIMSELF, and His role in it all”. The Bible is not for ‘pickers and choosers’. One simply must take all of it or none of it. Admittedly, the boomer generation seems to be great at somrgasboard christianity. Any scripture that doesn’t fit our desired lifestyle, we conveniently overlook. Walking in truth and obedience and taking up our cross daily to follow Him is not for the faint hearted. Interestingly, the leadership of emergent are mostly boomers too. But having said that, it seems to me that many christian leaders who are my age and older(Campus Life type guys I looked up to when I was in high school and college) have morphed into theologians I barely recognize.

    Chad, it is unfortunate that you have been so deeply wounded by the man who was discipleing you. Just a little story from personal experience – The pastor who married my daughter and her husband was adored by them. He required 6 mo. intense marital counseling before he would agree to tie their knot. He announced at the ceremony that if either of them strayed, he personally would come after them. Less than a year later he was caught in an affair. His wife was suicidal, he lost his pastorate and he deeply wounded many, many people. When my daughter asked how she could believe in any pastor again, Daddy gave the sage advice of someone who has already seen it all. “We all have feet of clay and that is why we must keep our eyes on Jesus who is the ‘author and finisher of our faith’.

    If the man you mentioned was giving you true Biblical guidance, then the fact that he failed his own test of following it in no way negates the truth of what he was teaching you. God knows you heart and your desires as no one else does. I find great comfort in Jeremiah where the LORD says to the children of Isreal when they were in exile, “Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with ALL your heart.”

  45. harmonic miner

    Chad, my friend, I am not ignoring you… I’m just buried in, uh, “hack arranging”.

    I’m getting a bumper sticker, “Have music, making kindling”, or words to that effect.

    I appreciate the deep honesty in your last post, and will reply thoughtfully and prayerfully as soon as I can.

    In the meantime, I am making the money to pay for my daughter’s wedding.

  46. harmonicminer

    Chad, I don’t know if you knew, but you just gave me about the very nicest compliment anyone has every made to my teaching and joy in working with musicians. There are tears on my face right now (well, there were when I first wrote this a couple of days ago…), which did not happen when I was selected by Apple as an Apple Distinguished Educator, or when APU gave me the Creative Teaching and Campus Leadership Award, both surprises, and came with quite a bit of money and other stuff! Your gift means MUCH more to me.

    Excuse me for a moment while I snip those sentences you wrote out and save them on several hard drives. I want to go back and read them again later, and Mike’s server could crash any day now.


    OK, I’m back.

    Here it is in a nutshell (I say that now, but I haven’t finished writing this yet…. I’m still not happy with everything in it, I feel like I’ve left out something important, and haven’t managed to say just what I mean…. but I’m going to send it now before the sun grows cold).

    You wished for someone to be able to disciple you, as I helped you learn about music theory, harmony, style, etc., but there is a crucial distinction that we need to make.

    I have mastery of certain aspects of music. I have those aspects of music so internalized that it is effortless, it’s like I’m standing inside a building with transparent walls and can see every part of it all at once, and very nearly BE everywhere in the building at once, almost able to see myself looking at myself through the musical walls. (Of course, I can’t play time worth a bean. I was an utter failure as a trumpet player, unable to survive contact with a single bad teacher. And when I sing, people move into the next room, if their mental state allows them to find the door. But what I’m good at, I’m REALLY good at…. as you know.)

    Admitting that I may have some unusual mental characteristics, I DO remember when that internal map to the musical content wasn’t there, and I remember what I did to develop it, and so with some considerable enthusiasm I try to share steps in that process with anyone who shows interest in taking the trip with me, which often benefits me as much as them.

    But my friend, when it comes to the things of God, I am a child, a particularly backward child, enmeshed in my own “here-and-now-ness”, full of fear and uncertainty, consumed with (mostly childish) questions, struggling to find a place to put my hands and feet for that next small step up the mountain side, mistrustful of my own perceptions, all too aware of my failings and sin, selfish to my core and afraid to give myself away for fear I will have nothing left and will die with nothing and it will all BE for nothing.

    I do not have the mastery it would take for me to disciple anyone, and I do not think I have seen “mastery” of the spiritual aspects of life in any person I have known, or read about (save One, of course), in the way that people can have “mastery” of some discipline. And even if someone has it (there are a very few people I might have nominated, if I’d known enough to take advantage of them at the time), they do not have mastery of how to live MY life, which is different from theirs. (That does not mean I should ignore them when they point out the poisonous plants I should avoid, and how to find food in the local forest. But I may be able to digest something they find merely distasteful…. and vice versa.)

    The thing that is so arresting in the Master is that he was intellectual, heart-feeling, generous, tough, insightful, simple, all at once, in a perfectly put-together way that denied no truths, challenged anyone’s complacency, and reflected the best parts of everyone back at them so they could see themselves more clearly, while holding up the mirror to their unworthiness, but saying, “It’s alright, I’m here with you. Just follow Me.” Oh, God, please let me do that, just a little. Let me show just a little bit of You.

    Sidebar: One of the ten thousand reasons to believe Jesus is the Christ is that no one could have created such a character in fiction. No novelist has ever come close to creating such a personality. Are we to believe that a bunch of fishermen, business-folk, bureaucrats and out-of-work rabbinical types made this guy up? I’ve seen things created by committees, conspiracies, councils, consultants and cabinets, and they’re never this good, not by half. Each view we have, from various perspectives of very human but inspired witnesses and writers, just fleshes out a more amazing Person.

    What all of this is meant to convey: I am not worthy to disciple much of anyone. Oh, I’ve lived a bit, and learned from a few mistakes, and I disciple my children, gently, when they’ll let me, because there’s no one else to do it, and it’s my job whether I’m up to it or not. I’ve read a lot, and thought a lot, and seen a lot, and prayed not enough, and given even less, being at least as self-centered as anyone else. Behind the gray hair (what little there is) I am the same desperate child of God I always was, run away from home, trying to find the way back, frequently too stupid to consult the map and ask for directions. For quite some time I doubted there WAS a map, and only in more recent decades have I really begun to learn, to “hope in faith”, that there is a map upon which I can rely, if I have the wit to understand the parts that apply to the geography I’m standing on right now.

    By the way, I don’t have a view of scripture that leads me to put too much emphasis on things that are mentioned only once or twice, and not reinforced, embellished or explained by another writer with a different (inspired) perspective. I don’t think that exactly means that I “pick and choose” my favorite parts of scripture, but it does mean that primarily I feel responsible to deal with major themes that are found throughout. (Another sidebar: the Emergent tendency to focus on the “take care of the needy” aspects of scripture is not a bad thing in itself, since it’s a major theme in the Jewish and Christian texts. I just think the Emergent don’t want to deal with other major themes with at least as pure a pedigree, and even greater centrality.)

    I guess I’ve finally figured out that I don’t have to know the whole route to take the next step. For way too long, I let my fear paralyze me into inaction, fear that the journey was impossible, or pointless (so why not just be comfortable now?), or that there was some impossible chasm part way along that would stop me cold. I still have some of that fear, but I have just enough nerve now to keep walking.

    Sometimes I even jog, a little.

    Chad, do you think my generation had it any better than yours? We were not blessed with some kind of wise generation before us, either. We put up with at least as much pretense from our elders, at least as much venality, at least as much selfishness parading as generosity, at least as much unawareness cloaked as wisdom. Not that we’ve done better… but we’ve not really done worse. Forget all that “greatest generation” nonsense. Sure, some gave much… and they haven’t stopped reminding us of it, and we paid for them in the greatest inter-generational transfer of wealth there has ever been, I think. And if you think my generation is impatient with the questions of yours… well, I have news for you, my friend. It was at least as bad for us.

    It has always been that way. No matter where I read, I can never quite find that generation that somehow had it figured out and was able to pass it on to the next. Do you think you see one in the record? If you do, do you see two in a row?

    No one really discipled me. (I know, I know… now you’re saying, “AHA, THAT’s what’s wrong with him…”) I was influenced by some people who were important in my life, of course, but in terms of a spiritual/theological/philosophical/life coach sort of person, there has never been anyone. I think I would have been a very tough nut to crack…. the phrase “well defended personality” was created just for me.

    There is one thing of which I’m pretty sure at this point: if I can find someone to “disciple” me, it probably won’t be any of the usual suspects, the pastors, the professional theologians, etc.

    Oh, I have known some godly people, but they have never been the ones who could really deal with my questions. And the more I read the historical sources for those questions, the more I began to understand that no one ever has, at least not in the way I wish was possible. After thousands of years of waiting, I think we can say it isn’t likely to happen this year, either.

    That is what leads me to assert that there are simply some unanswerable questions. It probably doesn’t hurt to ask them as they occur, but after a decent amount of investigation (you decide how much that is), it’s time to move on to questions that CAN be answered, even though we cannot fully understand the answers to those, either. You can come back and revisit the unanswerables every five years or so, for about a week, just to see if there’s anything new under the sun, or anything you missed the last time you looked.

    I think that’s what’s behind Paul, “For now we see through a glass darkly..”

    This is PAUL, for God’s sake (meant literally), acknowledging that some of it’s going to be pretty dim for now.

    I cannot tell you how often I have wished…..

    My problem? Because I’ve been “burned” so many times by the spiritual leaders, the publicly godly, I just haven’t trusted anyone that much, to be that open and vulnerable, share my deepest struggles, etc. Sometime you and I should sit down over lunch, and I should tell you my tale of woe with the church and the leadership of churches and para-church organizations. I will say that it all made a very handy excuse for me not to have to confront myself and my own shortcomings.

    I’ve come to believe, gradually, that the Pauline model of discipling is some kind of nearly impossible ideal. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve missed the point of it. Perhaps what made Paul such an effective “discipler” was not his intellect (towering), his emotional sensitivity (surprise! but the record is clear), his education, or any other specific characteristic. Maybe it was simply that he lived the life, “walked the talk” in modern parlance.

    Maybe the person who could disciple you is that person who “walks the talk”, not necessarily the person who knows more apologetics, or more church history, more theology, more philosophy, or who is extra-slick in front of a crowd, etc. Maybe you can be discipled by more than one person, in different areas, in different ways.

    Maybe I should take my own advice.

  47. aly hawkins

    I haven’t been a part of this thread, but I just wanted to say, um…wow, Phil. The above is one of the most wonderful, personal and compelling “testimonies” (for lack of a better word) that I have read/heard in quite some time. Thank you for sharing. It means a lot to me, even if I’m just a fly on the church wall in the larger conversation.

  48. leoskeo

    Again, I am an outsider here so please forgive my insensitivity. Phil I too say thanks for what you shared. One of the reason I chime in here is because of the “real” ways in which people communicate on this site. Chad, I spend much of my time as a Christ follower discipling men. But my discipleship is not about teaching them to discern the nuances of theology but rather to deepen a friendship with Christ, Grow skills in the handling of the word, become great fathers and husbands (where it applies) build healthy relationships within the spheres of life. (work, home, community, friendship, extended families, church)

    I was never discipled growing up but was told to go read my bible countless times. I did and it changed me. I try to give my guys tools for faith and life. I encourage them to not be afraid to be great.

    One reason McLaren gets such a reaction from people is that he knows how to identify our dissatisfaction with what is. This thread is evidence of that. So if you are the person who stuffed their dissatisfaction for a gazillion years you read him as a fresh breath. If you are a person whose dissatisfaction was always lived out in being a bit rebellious then he sort of excuses your rebellion by saying; “they had it all wrong anyway so you were right in your rebellion.”

    If you are the person who thought they found what they were looking for in a 2.5 answer this and call me in the morning, neat and orderly Christianity, but internally did not McLaren kills Santa.

    What makes McLaren dangerous to me are his influences. His willingness to glean form the Jesus Seminar leaders, to glean from Ken Wilber, his claims that we have had it wrong since the second Century. His distancing himself from the substitution death of Christ on the cross, calling the doctrine divine child abuse. His wiliness to make God in his own image. These are dangerous thoughts and feed a discontent but do not feed it with answers, just more deconstructive questions.

    IMO McLaren killed Santa unnecessarily and by is own admission he did so because of his dissatisfaction with answer and love for questions.

  49. Melody

    Leo and Phil,

    Very well spoken on both of your parts.

    And on a seperate note (no pun intended),’Tis the season to give concerts.

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