Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. Brian helped form and then pastored Cedar Ridge Community Church, an innovative, nondenominational church in the Baltimore-Washington region. During his time at Cedar Ridge, the church earned a reputation as a leader among emerging missional congregations. He has been active in networking and mentoring church planters and pastors since the mid 1980s, and has assisted in the development of several new churches. He is a popular conference speaker and a frequent guest lecturer for denominational and ecumenical leadership gatherings—across the US and Canada, Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia and was listed in Time as one of American’s 25 most influential evangelicals.
I met Brian in 2008 during a tour for his book Everything Must Change and we were able to connect again later that year at the Amahoro Africa Gathering in Rwanda and during a subsequent—and for me, quite life-altering—trip to Burundi. We have since run into each other at several global gatherings and share many good friends. I’ve had the privilege of seeing Brian encourage and challenge both Christians (myself included) and the not-so-religious around the world with genuine grace and humility.
McLaren is primarily known as a thinker and writer. He has published several well-know and award winning books, beginning with The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix, (Zondervan, 1998, rev. ed. 2000) up to his most recent 2011 HarperOne release, Naked Spirituality, which offers “simple, doable, and durable” practices to help people deepen their life with God. Brian and I corresponded by e-mail about his new book.
It seems, in the past, that your primary audience has been the Evangelical church. Who was this book written for and why?
I think many Evangelicals have often thought that I was writing mostly for them. But I think many Mainliners have thought I was writing mainly for them. My hunch is that I’m writing for all of the above – Evangelicals, Mainliners, Catholics, the “spiritual but not religious” – who share one thing in common: a desire for a deeper, more honest, more vibrant faith and spirituality. So I try to make points of contact with each group and build a bridge from where they are. In the end, I think we human beings have more in common than our differing labels might suggest; the deeper we go, the more in common we share. So to the degree I can address those deeper human needs, while avoiding exclusive jargon and so on, I think it’s possible to connect to a broader audience than just one tribe.
What caused you to write such a deeply personal book and how does it address the often-dichotomized realms of Christian thought and spiritual practice?
One of the ironies of my life is that I’ve been known publicly as a thinker/writer on theology and contemporary issues, yet I spent 24 years of my life as a pastor in a suburban church, preaching, leading Bible studies, leading in the eucharist, planning worship services, performing baptisms and weddings and funerals, leading retreats, and so on. For me, the theological and philosophical issues I’ve written about emerged in the context of the local church … and my work in theology and contemporary issues has always been deeply spiritual for me, not just an intellectual exercise. So for me they’ve been deeply integrated.
Yet I realize that’s not the case for everyone. For a lot of people I meet on the road, when their theological system crumbles, there’s little left … little spiritual vitality apart from a belief system, little in the way of sustaining, doable, durable spiritual practices. So I wanted to address that vacuum. I think to talk about the spiritual life in a pastoral way, we have to be personal. We have to speak from “what we have seen, what we have heard,” as 1 John says. So it felt necessary and right to share in the book some of my own struggles and breakthroughs on a very personal level, even though it’s also a little scary to do so – scary in the sense that if someone mocks your idea or trashes a concept, it doesn’t hurt in quite the same way it does when someone disregards a story that comes from your gut, so to speak. Continue reading