An Interview With Brian McLaren (Jul-Oct 2008)

By Matt Dabbs

By Joshua Graves
July – October, 2008

Frequent New Wineskins contributor Josh Graves recently caught up with well-known writer, teacher and thinker Brian McLaren to discuss his new book, Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008). ISBN #: 0849901146

New Wineskins: In Finding Our Way Again, you transition from a global focus (Everything Must Change) to Christianity on the local scene. Was that an intentional move?

Brian McLaren: The way I did it was intentional. Finding Our Way Again was a book I planned to write a couple more books down the road, but I was invited by Phyllis Tickle to write the introduction for an eight-part series. I did want to write a book on spiritual formation but had not planned on doing so until three or four books down the road. But I’m really glad I ended up doing it after Everything Must Change. It would have been a mistake had I written this book without the bigger global issues I raise in Everything Must Change. I do believe the gospel is social but I also believe the gospel is personal. Having these two books come out together will help people with integrating the universal/global and the local together . . . to give that balance.

New Wineskins: What are some of the spiritual disciplines that surprise people?

Brian McLaren: I think a really big one for a lot of people is the discipline of fixed-hour prayer. This was such a strong discipline in Judaism and in Christianity up until recent centuries. This idea that the church prays certain prayers, common prayers throughout the day (morning during the day, dinner time), there’s a rhythm to our day. We make habitual our connection to God so that eventually we have an ongoing openness and connection to the Holy Spirit. My book introduces the general idea of spiritual practices and tries to help us see Christian faith as a way and suggests why we should pay attention to ancient practices. There are going to seven books in the series. The next one is going to focus on constant prayer. I’m reading it right now and it’s very good. I feel I got to write the introduction to this series.

Finding Our Way AgainNew Wineskins: What do you mean when you talk about faith as a set of beliefs versus a way of life at the onset of this book?

Brian McLaren: I was interviewing Dr. Peter Senge, who does not portray himself as a Christian. . . . I was interviewing him by satellite. “Dr Senge, what would you like to say to Christian pastors to a group of Christian pastors?”

“Well, I was in a bookstore the other day and I asked the bookstore manager what the most popular books were. He said the most popular books right now were books on eastern religions. So, I want to know why that is the case in America?”

I (McLaren) turned the question back on him and said, “Dr. Senge, why do you think this is the case?”

“I think it’s because Christianity currently presents itself as a system of beliefs and Buddhism presents itself as a way of life.” Now, that one sentence was the one sentence we’d all come to hear. It was a powerful moment. For many of us, we can’t imagine Christianity as anything other than a system of beliefs. We use phrases like a “Christian worldview”—we’ve never questioned what we mean. And what we mean is a kind of intellectual system that has an answer to every question and a solution to every issue. Well, if you believe that is what the Christian faith is, then it shouldn’t surprise you when Christians are viewed as arrogant, narrow-minded and judgmental. We’ve set up the whole system to give us the ability to give quick answers. But this idea of a “way of life” has to do with how we are formed as human beings and how we live our daily lives, and how we see our very being transformed and changed. That, to me, is what Dr. Senge was doing, in a Restorationist sense, was calling us back to Jesus because Jesus, that’s what his followers were first called, followers of “The Way.” This to me is a very important rethinking of the way we need to be engaged in.

New Wineskins: Regarding practices, what are the common intersections between Judaism, Islam and Christian?

Brian McLaren:Yes. It shouldn’t be a surprise because one hundred percent of the first Christians were Jewish. Jesus was a Jew. In fact, I don’t think in Jesus’ own mind he was starting a new religion. I think he was brining a Jewish message to the whole world. He was, in some ways, opening up the next chapter that begun with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and so on. There are these practices that are inherent within Judaism. Practices like Sabbath. Practices like holy calendar, pilgrimage, giving to the poor, fixed hour prayer, holy feasts—a whole constellation of important practices that are carried on by Christians and then, six hundred years into Christian history, when Islam forms, a lot of Christians are ignorant when it comes to Islam, they don’t realize that Mohammed was building his religion upon Christianity and Judaism. He was taking polytheistic people and trying to hook them into the Jewish and Christian stories. In designing this series, I’m sure this part of her desire. None of us are trying to minimize the real differences between Islam, Christianity and Judaism. But I think you can acknowledge the differences and also talk about things we have common. In this series, we are presenting the seven practices that these three faiths share in common.

New Wineskins: Who are other writers that you would suggest regarding Christian spiritual practices?

Brian McLaren: Richard Foster and Dallas Willard have been indispensable to evangelicals. A very important writer from the mainline perspective is Diana Butler-Bass. She has written a book called Christianity for the Rest of Us. It is about the importance of spiritual practices. She believes that there is a renaissance of spirituality that is linked to the spiritual practices. I’d also say any book that has to do with the Celtic Christian movement. George Hunter wrote a book The Celtic Way of Evangelism. The good news is that there is a sense among many people that there are treasures desperately needed in our time. There are a number of good books being written. New Wineskins

You can start or join a thread about this article in the discussion forums for this issue, At the Intersection of Church and State.

Note: To listen to the entire interview, in which Josh and Brian discuss politics, heaven, war, and Christianity’s relationship to Judaism and Islam, click here.

Joshua J. GravesJoshua Graves is a minister serving the Rochester Church of Christ in Rochester Hills, MI and adjunct professor of religion for Rochester College. Josh did graduate studies at Abilene Christian University and Lipscomb University (M.Div.) He’s co-written the Study Guide for Mere Discipleship (Brazos Press) with noted author Lee Camp (forthcoming). He is married to Kara, the real theologian in the family. You can reach him at jgraves@rochestercoc.org or visit his online journal at [www.joshgraves.blogspot.com].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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