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Jun 05, 2007


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Dana Ames

Oh dear.

Michael, have a nice glass of ice tea on your patio or in your sun room and cool off....

I like Brian. I also think in some ways he's naive. That's not to say he doesn't know what he's doing and shouldn't be held accountable. But I really think he is an example of both #1 and #2 in my previous long post, but mostly #1 as he expresses himself here. The positions that are normally associated with "conservative evangelicals" have left a really bad taste in his mouth, and the only option he can see is "progressive" positions. (It's interesting to me that he avoids using the word "liberal".) He has not found other options. I'm not saying he's right and you're wrong- this is just how I see it.

After you have calmed down, perhaps writing him a thoughtful email patiently :) outlining your concerns would be good. Maybe you will have to make a draft and come back to it after you sleep on it for a night or two... But I really think you should communicate with him. I believe he would respond to some generous communication. He's home for a the next week or so, according to the schedule at his web site. http://www.brianmclaren.net

I emailed him before the SD conference and Grace, his wife, got back to me right away. We had tea between sessions one morning, and I appreciated that he made time for me- truly a "nobody" on his larger radar screen. I told him a little about my blog wanderings, and he asked which blogs I would recommend. I only gave him one- yours.




McLaren is a progressive. I doubt he is a real third way. I think his point is that evangelical is not conservative or liberal, not that McLaren is not conservative or liberal. I don't really care about the term evangelical, I don't have a horse in that race. I am ok with abandoning that term too. But I can understand for someone with real love for the term and community wanting to have your voice acknowledged as valid as well.

On the subject of sluring christian organizations: YWAM supported Pinochet and other fascist dictators in central and south America. Should we be against funding/supporting any YWAM folks?

Michael Kruse

Actually Dana, I am now on my back porch in the glider with a nice tall diet Cherry Pepsi (although I am thinking I should have gotten the decaf version.)

I like Brian too! I have talked with him briefly a couple of times. I am not personally offended if he sees progressive solutions as the answer. My neighborhood votes 85-90% Democrat. I am in the denominational hierarchy of the PCUSA where the easy majority of folks relish the term progressive. I have family members who are progressives. I can get along quite amicably.

What frosts me is to claim Emergent is a “broad” conversation while making close partnership with some of the most radical elements of left-wing Christianity. Progressive equals broad minded. Conservative equals narrow-minded. This has been, and continues to be, the modus operandi of the Left within mainline Christianity. I can’t speak to Brian’s motives but I can speak to the fact that he has adopted precisely the strategy the mainline Left has used for years to marginalize more conservative voices within mainline denominations.

Brian is a pretty smart guy. I think he has a good handle on what he is doing. I just think he needs to either exit the Emergent connection and go with his politics or be a voice in the Emergent conversation that draws others into dialog and lay low on the politics. If this is the shades of things to come I am done with the organization called Emergent.

(And BTW, you were very kind to suggest my blog to Brian. If he reads it I’m sure he does so to get a different perspective. Well, he now has a different perspective on his comments. *grin*)

Michael W. Kruse

Hmmm...I'd have to know more about what "support" YWAM gave (did they join the death squads or offer military funding? *grin*).

Lots of organizations do things they later regret. I don't see the NCC repenting much for their track record. I don't know what YWAM's case is.

As to your point about McLaren being a progressive, we agree. That is not what troubles me. What troubles me is the couching of what is very strongly a progressive agenda as a "third way." We in the mainlines have had progressives and conservatives at each others throats for years. Been their, done that, got the t-shirt. *grin*

Dana Ames

I understand. I still think a letter of some sort could be helpful, for both of you.

Mmmmm- cherry cola!



Mike, this is well said. I believe that while Brian is trying to get past the destructive left/right distinctions, he does ignore the greater problems with adopting progressive politics. While he is criticizing conservatives for being too "political" in essence what he does is the exact same thing - it just takes place at the other end of the spectrum.

I have said before in public that I love Brian; I've met him, interviewed him and I love his conversational approach to theology and the development of emerging communities. Generous Orthodoxy has altered my life substantially for the better. I do however think he is way off on politics and economics.

I'll close by saying this: I have given (or have been taken) 20 years of my life to communism and socialism in Europe - I'll be damned before I get behind another group of people doing this all over again.



I guess this hinges on what you think: Is McLaren the emergent conversation or is he a voice in it. If McLaren speaks for emergent, then sure ... his claims about dialog while proffering progressive ideas are not helpful. But I think you are mistaking McLaren for Emergent.


Oh P.S. YWAM reported Christians that participated in Base Communities to the death squads. They also made agreements not to speak out against death squads so that they were not harassed, made bribes and funding, but the direct reporting of people to death squad leaders ... that is pretty direct support to me.

Michael W. Kruse

"But I think you are mistaking McLaren for Emergent. "

Fair enuf. I think the question also has to be asked about the likelihood that most people can appreciate this nuance. We have had at least three people come to our Emergent cohort meeting in the past year and ask if it was possible to be a Republican or a conservative and be a part of the Emergent conversation. That says something about the popular perception and events like this strongly reinforce that. That is why I think McLaren needs make a decision about role he should play.

Michael W. Kruse

Oh, and about YWAM. Yikes! That is incredible. I have no knowledge of the extent of this. I know mission organizations have failed to act appropritately in other totalitarian settings like communism and Islam. The ethical dliemmas are gut wrenching in many of these cases and mistakes are unnderstanable but willingly betraying people to death squads is hard to justify under any circumstantes.

Mark Van Steenwyk

Great post. I'm not opposed to Emergent folks being liberals. But I don't like how everyone feels the need to assert that somehow they exist above the old distinctions. When people like Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis say that Evangelicals shouldn't be beholden to the Republican Party but then get in bed with the Democrats, it is a tish dishonest. And I am by no means anything remotely resembling a political conservative.

Quotidian Grace

Very interesting post and comments, Mike.

How do you distinguish between Emergent and "emerging church"?

Michael W. Kruse

QG, "Emergent" or "Emergent Village" is an organization with a board, a staff (of one I believe) and an organizational identity. Emergent is one manifestation of a larger movement called the emerging church.

Scot McKnight published an excellent article in CT in January called Five Streams of the Emerging Church. For a book length introduction you can't beat Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger's Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures.

Gibbs and Bolger write:

"Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures. This definition encompasses nine practices. Emerging churches (1) identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, and (3) live highly communal lives. Because of these three activities, they (4) welcome the stranger, (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities."

As Gibbs and Bolger demonstrate, this focus creates religous communites that range from the apolitical to the very politcial, from conservative to liberal.

McKnight identifies five Ps the charaterize the emerging church.

Prophetic (or at least provocative)



Postmodern (Not necessarily embracing everything postmodern but keenly aware of the postmodern context as the context within which mission happens.)

Political (I would qualify that the political statement some make is to no be political, if that makes sense.)

Emergent is an organization and subset of the emerging church movement.


Give me a break...

I'm having a hard time trying to figure out precisely where in evangelical circles McLaren would be allowed to speak frankly about his political views?

What platform would let him talk without shouting him down? Where precisely his he supposed to stand to say what he believes/thinks politically?

Michael W. Kruse

Jim, please don't miss my point. I'm not faulting McLaren for holding progressive positions and linking with kindred spirits. The issue is not that McLaren is a progressive. The issue is that he routinely holds himself up as a representatve of a "third way," as he does in this clip, when in fact what he is serving up is a repackaged progressivism. If he is going to be a progressive, then so be it and stop denying it.



You said "I will know we have a truly emerging leader when he or she gives a press conference and neither Jim Edgar nor Jim Dobson are thrilled to be standing behind him or her."

Well my point is that there is no forum "in the middle" where someone like McLaren is going to stand and actually be heard. It simply doesn't exist.

That's the problem with polarization in our society and in the church, it's one way, the other, or the highway. The difficulty is for those who stand in the middle to be heard.

The emergent problem is that the evangelical right is not going to let McLaren or any other emergent for that matter speak from their platform, so what's the other option???

Michael W. Kruse

I hear your frustration. With McLaren I believe one of two things are at work.
Either hr is a centrist who is trying horn in on the progressive stage to get a hearing. Or he is a progressive who is not being forthcoming about his poltical positions? Based on what I have read and heard from his lips I think it is the second reality.

I think the work of someone from "the middle" or "third way" will require the long hard work of building that base. I am not saying that such a person would not find common ground on which to join with existing factions on selective issues. But if I (or someone else) got up and told you I was representing a path to a new broader way toward politics at an event called the "New Moral Mainstream" while Jim Dobson was standing approvingly behind my shoulder, how would you interpret that message?


"The emergent problem is that the evangelical right is not going to let McLaren or any other emergent for that matter speak from their platform, so what's the other option???"

The option should be to create a new platform independent from either side. By associating itself with the left, Emergent is in fact antagonizing a large majority of the American Christendom. What I find valuable in Emergent is not the political leanings, but rather the ability to bring Christians together and create a constructive dialogue which builds bridges and build people rather than a new political dogma (which in many ways seems to be democratic talking points).



When Pat Robertson or James Dobson associate with the right does that antagonize American Christians? If it does ... should they stop? Come on now ... McLaren is a progressive. Let him be who he is, freely. I am sorry, but if the big deal is that by standing on stage with someone McLaren antagonizes you ... then perhaps you should just grow a thicker skin and get used to living in a free society. ;) (hear that libertarian tinge in my thinking?)

Finding a third way will only happen when people on the right and left sit down and talk to each other, realize that the other person is passionate about some of the things you are, and take what is best from each offering.

Perhaps you think Emergent should be a new melting pot, or refiners fire, where whatever ideological biases you bring in disapeer and get forged into a new third way.

I would suggest that Emergent is really a lot more like a stew, where by working together closely in stressful situations, we rub off on each other. So the beef has a tinge of onion in it, and the onion a tinge of raisin. I would hope that after some discussions here with Mike, that my posts have a tinge of conservative economic thought. I would also hope Mike would be aware of the injustices present in reality.

Michael W. Kruse

"I would hope that after some discussions here with Mike, that my posts have a tinge of conservative economic thought. I would also hope Mike would be aware of the injustices present in reality."

I always enjoy our discussions, Nate. Where I feel like we often talk past each other is that (as I perceive it) you interpret my defense of market capitalism as an advocacy or endorsement for the state of the world as it is. It is not. What I’m suggesting is that there is no economic system that will guarantee economic justice as long as human beings have free will.

Market capitalism is by far the most just system at creating and multiplying wealth. Wealth means power. Fallen sinful human beings with power entangle themselves in all sorts of evils like imperialism, self-gratification (consumerism) and greed. Wealthy people did the same in Imperial Rome and they did so in Soviet Union. All that differed was the way they become wealthy. We cannot end imperialism (for instance) by sabotaging market capitalism. We end imperialism by infusing individuals and institutions in society with virtue that redirects wealth and power gained toward righteous ends. We are conflating the exhibition of sinful behavior of wealthy people with the market capitalism that creates wealth. My point very often is (not always) that people who are critiquing very real problems I agree exist are misdiagnosing the source of the problem as a product of the economic system of capitalism when the problems lies elsewhere. Therefore, market capitalism becomes the nemesis instead of the real source of the problem. I defend the economic system of capitalism and in so doing am charged with being callous or uninformed about suffering and injustice in the world, which I have spent my life educating myself about and partnering with others to achieve practical solutions.



Was listening to a McLaren talk to a from Grace Cathedral (liberal mainline, San Fran church).

About 3/4s in, he gets asked a question about private property rights. I think in that reply he does strike a middle way, both explaining how private property rights enable the growth out of poverty. He notes how the countries with the worst poverty also often have the worst record on private property rights. He then notes that private property rights are not absolute, the world is the Lords and everything inside it. So he explains how he feels that the left brings that social concern for property (what is done by some to the Earth effects us all).

Since McLaren comments so directly on some of your favorite things, what do you make of his specific way of dealing with them. Is it closer to a via media, then you have painted him for standing on stage with some dude?


Michael W. Kruse

“He then notes that private property rights are not absolute, the world is the Lords and everything inside it. So he explains how he feels that the left brings that social concern for property (what is done by some to the Earth effects us all).”

I haven’t listened to the presentation but I have heard similar statements by him, Wallis, and other Christian progressives. Almost every Christian ethicist I know who comes to a conservative economic perspective wholeheartedly embraces the theology that "all the earth is Lord’s and we are but stewards of it" and that this sets the context of it. (I’d invite you to look at a post I wrote more than a year ago about the">http://krusekronicle.typepad.com/kruse_kronicle/2006/02/theology_and_ec_1.html">the implications of the creation story. Scroll down to “God placed humanity over creation to be stewards of it and to be eikons of God's authority.”) The above claim that progressives are the only ones bringing this element to the discussion is a disingenuous misrepresentation by the left of the position of every Christian ethicist I can think of who holds to the market capitalism perspective. It is the tried and true political tactic to paint your opponent as the extremist while you are the "middle way."

The question is not whether or not our property rights are couched in the context of stewardship. We all agree. The question is to what constitutes poor stewardship and who decides when it has happened. It is about the appropriate and effective response when people exercise poor stewardship. Progressives lean, in varying degrees, toward having the state define what is and is not good stewardship and empowering the state with the authority to compel adherence to their vision of sound stewardship. Conservatives see a role for the state but believe that these matters are usually best determined by institutions (family/church/voluntary associations) competing in the marketplace of ideas to sway people to their vision and act accordingly.

Again the “some dude” on stage is just the icing on the cake. The press conference is “Religious Progressives Left Behind.” If he isn’t a religious progressive left behind, what was he doing on stage?


umm....when "conservative" ends up meaning only focusing on abortion/gay rights and having an unreflective support of capitalism then "conservative" DOES mean narrow, etc. etc. etc.

Sadly, in the age of O'Reilly and Hannity, that's what "conservative" too often really means to many people.

William F. Buckley, where are you? =)


Awesome discussion! I really appreciate how dialogue and conversation are encouraged on your blog and especially how it is OK to respectfully disagree. Lots to think about here.

Bob Robinson

Context, context, context!!

It helps to understand the context of Brian's news conference. It was in response to a study done by Media Matters on religion in the media. According to their study, the conventional wisdom that the media outlets skew to the left when it comes to religion is not correct.

"In order to begin to assess how the news media paint the picture of religion in America today, this study measured the extent to which religious leaders, both conservative and progressive, are quoted, mentioned, and interviewed in the news media.

Among the study's key findings:

* Combining newspapers and television, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed in news stories 2.8 times as often as were progressive religious leaders.
* On television news -- the three major television networks, the three major cable new channels, and PBS -- conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed almost 3.8 times as often as progressive leaders.
* In major newspapers, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed 2.7 times as often as progressive leaders."

The 27-page report studied how often two different groups of 10 religious leaders were interviewed by the media to get their opinion on issues from the religious vantage point.

The conservatives were Tony Perkins, Franklin Graham, Gary Bauer, Richard Land, Charles Colson, Ted Haggard, Wendy Wright, Tom Minnery, Rod Parsley, and Bill Donohue.

The progressives were Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine, San Francisco rabbi Michael Lerner, National Council of Churches' Bob Edgar, Baptist sociologist Tony Campolo, David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, nun and National Catholic Reporter columnist Joan Chittister, Louisiana Baptist pastor and Interfaith Alliance head Welton Gaddy, John Thomas of the United Church of Christ, James Forbes of the Riverside Church in New York, and Brian McLaren.

So here's the context. Brian did not select these people; Media Matters selected these people as the "religious progressives" that are counter to the religious "conservatives."

The press conference featured not just McLaren and Edgar, but also Forbes, Saperstein, and Alexia Kelley of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (see more of the press conference here).

So, McLaren is certainly a "progressive" (Media Matters identifies him as such). But the overall point of the study is not that McLaren is some kind of mediating political position, but that he represents a more liberal position, one that is not well-represented in the media when they seek to explain religious views on the issues of our day.

Michael W. Kruse

Thanks for that additional context Bob. I appreciate it. The issue for me is that McLaren opted to be included in this categorization of progressive even though the most visible leaders of Emergent continue to insist they are not tied in with progressive politics. I'm not a progressive but that is not the problem for me. I just want McLaren and others to truly get in touch with their inner-progressive. *grin* It's like an alcoholic. They can’t fully be helped until they own who they are. *grin*


I agree with others: this is a great conversation to have, and I'm sorry to be late to the party. However, I do want to add my $0.02. I am both a Presbyterian with an emergent faith, and a board member of Emergent Village. And I am someone who definitely does not fit in either the Republican, Christian conservative or Democratic, Christian liberal camps. I am still hoping and praying that in these postmodern times, we can find a third way (or fourth or fifth?) that I can embrace.

Brian has clearly found a place among the Sojourners, NCC crowd, and he seems to be doing some good work there. Great for him! In my mind, they certainly have some valuable perspectives, and Brian's thoughtful, gentle voice will bless them in many ways, I am sure.

But there are many of us who feel like there is no room for our beliefs within the two modern camps. We feel like the Christian conservatives have an overly simple, dogmatic focus on a (very) few moral issues, and very little grace to share with the rest of us. On the other hand, the liberal, Christian left seems to be overly political, to put too much trust in large government, and to resist the liberating forces of the marketplace. We are uncomfortable with those choices, and we long for something different.

Indeed, that's what some of us are attempting to find or create. By following Jesus first, before political party or denomination or, even, national identity, we hope to find a way to participate in God's redemption of the world through Christ. And we will not settle for expediency or power or influence. We will only be satisfied with following Jesus.

Thanks, Mike, for cultivating this discussion. Peace.

Michael W. Kruse

Thanks David for a very helpful response!



Let me add my voice to those who love this site for the meaty articles and great, wide open discussions. Two quick comments, you noted:

The question is not whether or not our property rights are couched in the context of stewardship. We all agree. The question is to what constitutes poor stewardship and who decides when it has happened. It is about the appropriate and effective response when people exercise poor stewardship. Progressives lean, in varying degrees, toward having the state define what is and is not good stewardship and empowering the state with the authority to compel adherence to their vision of sound stewardship. Conservatives see a role for the state but believe that these matters are usually best determined by institutions (family/church/voluntary associations) competing in the marketplace of ideas to sway people to their vision and act accordingly.

1) It sounds like one of your issues is which institution is acting. If the church or family attempts to influence that is fine. If the state does that is not ok. It sounds like you are forgetting that almost every social institution is really just made up of people. The church has as much power (if not more in many people's lives) then the state. But when a state defines ill-stewardship what is happening. If the state simply acknowledged the consensus of other social institutions would that still be wrong or liberal?

2) Or is the issue the entire concept of compelling, when a church tries to compell a member to act differently is that just biblical church discipline (don't get off to easy and ignore the link between discipline and disciple)? How then do we deal with the entire issue of loosing and binding? (I ask this question because for me ... where-ever I fall the idea of compelling is what scares/bothers me and yet I am struggling with the texts that seem to advocate it, not just for rhetorical points.)

Michael W. Kruse

Nate what I’m leaning against is the equation of “society” with the “government.” For example, we say society should take care of the poor. I agree. But then people like Jim Wallis ask how do we know if “society” is taking care of the poor? He replies that we look at the federal “government’s” budget and calculate what percentage that is being spent on the poor. He says the budget is a moral document. For him, “society” taking care of the poor is equal to federal “government” expenditures. “Society” equals “government.” This is an exceedingly dangerous mindset.

Federal government is one institution of society. Family, faith community, voluntary associations, economic enterprises, schools, local governments and a host of other intermediary institutions make up society. When the a national government takes on roles that are best accomplished by more intermediary or localized institutions it does two things: 1) it usually delivers services less effectively and 2) it atrophies the ability of more intermediary and localized institutions to take care of themselves.

The measure of how much society cares for the poor is categorically not the federal budget. It is the quality of life for the poor as mediated through all of society’s institutions that matters and increasing federal expenditures may (or may not) actually be detrimental. The progressive mindset tends to be blind the complex web of social institutions with the family as the base, and defaults to government top-down correctives to achieve social justice.

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