The Skepticism of Brian McLaren

As I have been reading more of McLaren, I have found a repeated theme: we ought to jettison the over-confident rationalism of modernity and affirm a number of postmodern insights. Specifically, in the book The Church on the Other Side, (p. 172), he calls us to affirm "an appropriate humility" and "a healthy skepticism."

But what does an "appropriate humility" and "healthy skepticism" look like for McLaren? This is a small sample of the kinds of things he says:

* "At some level of profundity and accuracy, we are bound to be inadequate or incomplete all the time, in almost anything we say or think, considering our human limitations, including language, and God's infinite greatness." From A Generous Orthodoxy (p. 65, emphasis mine)

* Referring to musician Bruce Cockburn, McLaren says, "I think my favorite line from all of his songs is found in Understanding Nothing: ?All these years of thinking,? he sings, ?ended up like this?in front of all this beauty, understanding nothing.?" (A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 291)

* In the concluding chapter to A Generous Orthodoxy, McLaren states: "?ask me if Christianity (my version of it, yours, the Pope's, whoever's) is orthodox, meaning true, and here's my honest answer: a little, but not yet?I?d have to say that we probably have a couple of things right, but a lot of things wrong." (A Generous Orthodoxy, p. 293, emphasis mine)

(For the sake of brevity, I have not quoted from other McLaren sources but this theme runs throughout his work)

On McLaren's view there does not seem to be many (if indeed any) things we can claim to know, particularly when it comes to our theological knowledge. This is not "appropriate skepticism" but unjustified skepticism that undercuts the gospel. Has not God revealed a great deal about Himself in Scripture? Doesn't the Bible assert many, many truths that enable us to get more that just "a couple of things right?" If we cannot get more than a just a couple of things right about God, what keeps us from idolatry?

In his books, McLaren points out that the biblical narrative is so rich and multi-layered that one telling of the story cannot exhaustively capture all of its dimensions. I would agree with this point but would ask McLaren what follows from it.

That we ought to practice more epistemological humility? Sure, I can agree with that. That we ought to be skeptical of all claims to knowledge? No, I cannot agree with McLaren's skepticism. To say we cannot have omniscient theological knowledge does not entail that we cannot have true theological knowledge.

In addition, I don't think McLaren practices the skepticism he describes. He has authored or co-authored at least 10 books. He has written numerous articles. He has spoken at numerous churches, seminars, and conferences. What has been the content of his prolific output? Things he thinks he knows.

We need to take a close look at the skepticism promoted by McLaren and others. Their views about knowledge have serious ramifications for our theological and apologetic project, as well as our day-to-day worship of God and practice of the faith.

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Melinda Penner

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