Brian McLaren is a pastor and author who is leading the church’s charge into postmodernism and is one of the foremost voices of the emerging church movement. His book More Ready Than You Realize was recommended to me by several people. One called it “the best book I’ve ever read on evangelism” and another went almost as far, calling it “one of the best books” he had read on the subject. In my discussion of the book I am going to avoid speaking about the emerging church, since evangelism is the true focus of this volume. Though it is difficult to separate the emerging church from McLaren’s approach to evangelism, I will seek to do so.
The back cover begins with a warning. It says “This is not just another book on evangelism. This book contains fresh, encouraging, challenging, groundbreaking and doable ideas you’ll want to share with your pastor, your small group or class, your board, or your parachurch organization.” The next heading is Out. Under Out it lists: evangelism as sales pitch, as conquest, as warfare, as ultimatum, as threat, as proof, as argument, as entertainment, as show, as monologue, as something you have to do. As what is In the book lists: disciple-making as conversation, as friendship, as influence, as invitation, as companionship, as challenge, as opportunity, as conversation, as dance, as something you get to do. Clearly this book is trying to bring a fresh perspective to a topic many Christians regard as stale.
McLaren uses the term “spiritual friendship” to describe evangelism that will be effective in our postmodern society. Where in the past people have, with varied degrees of success, used many other methods, today we need to rely on friendships and relationships. We need to change our way of thinking so that we no longer regard unbelievers as “the lost” by instead see them as “the precious ones” that God is seeking. When we regard them as lost, we necessarily place ourselves in a superior position to them and this impacts our attempts to evangelize them. We also need to stop speaking about “winning” people for the Lord, as postmoderns hate the old-fashioned terms of conquest and warfare. We need to regard evangelism as a dance where the believer and the unbeliever move in harmony, first one taking the lead and then the other.
The book is based on a spiritual friendship the author shared with a young woman he calls Alice. Their relationship was carried on almost entirely via email and went on for some two years (at which point the book was published). McLaren holds this relationship as a model for spiritual friendship. He shows how initially Alice is filled with questions and with disgust for traditional Christianity. By the end of the book she has just as many questions but has respect for God and claims to have developed some sort of faith. Interestingly, the author makes no claim that Alice ever became a believer.
McLaren’s theology is poor at best. At one point he is faced with the question of “why did Jesus have to die?” He realizes that all his standard answers to this question would make no impact on a postmodern mind, so he asks for two weeks to come up with an answer. He pulled out his theological volumes by Stott, Packer and Boice and found no answers. Fortunately his brother provided the answer he needed. His brother told him that we do not really know why Jesus died and that even Jesus didn’t know, hence His question to God in the Garden of Gethsemane where he asked God if there wasn’t some other way He could accomplish His mission! This revelation opened McLaren’s eyes and also made a great impact on the person who originally asked him the question. Of course this is terrible theology that shows McLaren (and his brother) are open theists.
The book is filled with other strange and theologically erroneous quotes.
At the very beginning of the book we find this strange quote: “If you are not a committed Christian yourself, I am sure you will understand that since Christian commitment is where I’m coming from, it is the approach of this book. This is not to say there isn’t a place for Buddhist or Hindu or Jewish evangelism, but someone else will be better suited to write on those topics.” (page 15)
On page 142 we read “This is not to say that questions of heaven and hell are unimportant. It is that they are not as exclusively important as modern Christians have tended to proclaim them to be.” I have to wonder what could possibly be more important. Without heaven or hell there is no gospel and no need for a gospel!
These are just a few of multitudes of examples. At the back of the book he lists movies that are great (and recommended) for group discussion. One of these is The Big Kahuna.” He writes “brace yourself for some tough language…” (page 187). It would seem that sinning by watching and endorsing such films is an effective evangelistic technique for postmoderns.
In the final analysis there are two major issues with McLaren’s evangelistic technique. Traditional evangelism has always regarded relationship as the absolute best way to reach unbelievers. McLaren’s approach has no sense of urgency. He was content to allow Alice to go two years without ever challenging her with the heart of the gospel. He allowed her to fumble her way through, often leaving her for weeks or months without guidance as she tried to piece it all together herself. So the first issue I take is the lack of urgency. Though I have little doubt that many evangelistic opportunities have been ruined by moving too quickly, I believe you can also move far too slowly. The second issue is that McLaren’s technique does not teach the gospel. There is never a mention of sin or repentance, of heaven or hell. Why should people want to be saved if we never share with them what they need to be saved from? His approach is destined to produce many shallow, ignorant “Christians” who really do not know the gospel.
While I approve of the idea of spiritual friendships, I have to conclude that McLaren’s approach is faulty. An approach that regards the gospel message as outdated and unnecessary simply cannot please the Lord. I believe we still need to preach the gospel in all its power and force – as much now as at any other point in history. While it may be necessary to abandon some techniques while creating new ones, we can never lose the central focus of the gospel which is sin, death, forgiveness and life!