Brian McLaren Quotes, 'Bible' to 'Homosexuality'

by Matt Slick
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It's important to get an idea of where leaders like Brian McLaren in the emerging church movement are coming from so you can identify the confusion, ambiguity, and unbiblical perspectives of such leaders. Take some time to read through these quotes from Brian McLaren.  Is he a false teacher?

McLaren is rightly concerned with global issues.  Perhaps he is right that Christianity has become a bit stale, in-grown, and ineffective -- at least in some areas.  But, Christianity ceases to be true when its essential doctrines are nullified and McLaren does not support the essentials.  He offers us a feel good, relative kind of assessment combined with a reinterpretation of Biblical truths all housed in Christian sounding prose.  This makes him dangerous.

The following are quotes from McLaren, extracted from different sources.  I've added small comments in green.

  1. Bible
    1. Criticizes using nonbiblical words when describing the Bible's authority: "Interestingly, when Scripture talks about itself, it doesn't use the language we often use in our explanation of its value.  Premodern Western Christians, words like authority, inerrancy, infallibility, revelation, objective, absolute, and literal are crucial... hardly anyone notices the irony of resorting to the authority of extra biblical words and concepts to justify one's belief in the Bible's ultimate authority."1
      1. What McLaren is failing to understand is that words are tools.  We use words to identify concepts.  The word Trinity is not found in the Bible but it is an accurate representation of the theology of God found therein.  The word monotheism likewise is not found in the Bible but it accurately represents the singularity of God's existence.  There's nothing wrong with using words not found in the Bible to describe concepts that the Bible teaches.
  2. Christianity
    1. Christianity is a little true: "Sit down here next to me in this little restaurant and 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.  Assuming by Christianity you mean the Christian understanding of the world and God, Christian opinions on soul, text, and culture... I'd have to say that we probably have a couple of things right, but a lot of things wrong, and even more sprints before is unseen and unimagined."2
      1. Which "couple of things" are correct about Christianity?  Might they be the Trinity, the deity of Christ, that Jesus is the only way to salvation, the vicarious atonement of Christ, Jesus' physical resurrection, or justification by grace through faith?  These essentials of the faith are true, not just a little true and without these truths, we don't have Christianity.
    2. Perhaps our understanding of Christianity is wrong: "Perhaps our ‘inward-turned, individual-salvation-oriented, un-adapted Christianity’ is a colossal and tragic misunderstanding, and perhaps we need to listen again for the true song of salvation, which is ‘good news to all creation.’ So perhaps it’s best to suspend what, if anything, you ‘know’ about what it means to call Jesus ‘Savior’ and to give the matter of salvation some fresh attention. Let’s start simply."3
      1. Notice how McLaren constructs the statement.  He uses negatives such as 'inward-turned, individual-salvation-oriented, un-adapted Christianity"  to represent Christianity and then he attacks that representation.  What he does is cause people to doubt what they already know about Christ and undermine historic Christianity in the process.  I'm reminded of what Satan said to Eve, "Has God said...?"  The first thing he did was get Eve to doubt the word of God.  Error followed.
        I get the impression from McLaren that he wants to disassociate himself from the historical Church and from the absolutes of Christian truth that have been revealed and codified throughout the church's history.  Of course, we don't want to be so stuck in ancient tradition and creeds that we become useless and even anti-gospel, but there is a heritage and there are truths that we must stick to.  McLaren needs to emphasize that.
  3. Experience
    1. McLaren is a Christian because it fits his experience: "This is why, for starters, I'm a Christian: the image of God conveyed by Jesus as the son of God, and the image of the universe that resonates with his image of God best fit my deepest experience, best resonate with my deepest intuition, best inspire my deepest hope, and best challenge me to live with what my friend, the late Mike Yaconelli, called 'dangerous wonder,' which is the starting point for a generous orthodoxy."4
      1. Here we have a great example of the error of putting experience over Scripture.  The reason anyone is a Christian is because of God's calling (Rom. 8:30), because God has chosen them for salvation (2 Thess. 2:13), and because God has granted that they believe (Phil. 1:29).  It is not because of the person's experience, intuition, or hope.  McLaren appears to elevate experience over scriptural revelation, at least in this instance.
  4. God
    1. Masculine pronouns for God criticized: "This is as good a place as any to apologize for my use of masculine pronouns for God in the previous sentence.  You'll notice that wherever I can, I avoid the use of masculine pronouns for God because they can give the false impression to many people today that the Christian God is a male deity."5
      1. I guess McLaren knows better than the Lord himself on how he needs to be addressed.  Was God in his infinite wisdom and knowledge mistaken when using the masculine terms in reference to himself?  Of course not.  If God, who inspired the Bible, refers to himself -- through the prophets and apostles -- in the masculine gender, then why shouldn't we?
    2. Masculine imagery of God contributes to problems: "The masculine biblical imagery of 'Father' and 'son' also contributes to the patriarchalism or chauvinism that has too often characterized Christianity, maybe even more significantly than the pronoun problem."6
      1. Is political correctness the overarching filter through which scriptural revelation is examined?  I guess we can't refer to God as "He" even though God refers to himself that way?  Maybe McLaren knows what is best?  I think not.
    3. Trinity's value is in our experience: "...the value of understanding the Trinity is to love and honor and serve the Trinity, and that allegedly right Trinitarian opinions that do not lead to divine adoration are worth little."7
      1. Though I would agree with McLaren's sentiment here, an additional value of understanding the Trinity, however, is to be able to recognize and identify false theological systems and thereby prevent idolatry.  He should know that.
    4. God needs prophets: "Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar said it like this, 'God needs prophets in order to make himself known, and all prophets are necessarily artistic.  What a prophet has to say can never be said in prose.' This healthy political sensibility is illustrated beautifully in the story of Blaise Pascal..."8
      1. First of all, God doesn't need anyone to reveal himself.  He can reveal Himself in a cloud, a sunset, creation, etc.
      2. Prose is normal speaking, normal writing without poetry or rhyme.  Consider John 1:29-30 where John the Baptist, a prophet said concerning Jesus, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30“This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’" Apparently the Prophet John the Baptist (Matt. 11:13; 14:5) had no problem speaking in prose.
  5. Gospel
    1. McLaren doesn't think we've got the gospel right yet: "McLaren doesn't just want to turn the doctrine of election upside down (or, as Newbigin argued, right side up)—he has questions about other cherished words in the evangelical vocabulary. "I don't think we've got the gospel right yet. What does it mean to be 'saved'? When I read the Bible, I don't see it meaning, 'I'm going to heaven after I die.' Before modern evangelicalism nobody accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, or walked down an aisle, or said the sinner's prayer." It's not that McLaren is interested in joining the liberal side of modern Protestantism. "I don't think the liberals have it right. But I don't think we have it right either. None of us has arrived at orthodoxy."9
      1. I have the gospel right.  It is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  I know I have it right because Paul the apostle tells us what the gospel is in 1 Cor. 15:1-4.  How can he say we don't have the gospel right when the Bible so clearly tells us exactly what it is?
  6. Heaven and Hell
    1. Does not denounce universalism: "But what about heaven and hell?  You ask.  Is everybody in? My reply:  Why do you consider me qualified to make this pronouncement?  Isn't this God's business?  Isn't it clear that I do not believe this is the right question for a national Christian to ask?"10
      1. No, McLaren is certainly not qualified to make such a pronouncement.  But God is and God has told us that not everyone goes to heaven (Matt. 25:46; Mark 3:29).  Surely, McLaren knows these verses.  Why is that he does not reference them or others like them to answer the question he himself asks?  Is everybody in heaven?  The answer is no.  Is everyone in hell? The answer likewise is no.
    2. Does not denounce universalism: "McLaren: Tony [Campolo] and I might disagree on the details, but I think we are both trying to find an alternative to both traditional Universalism and the narrow, exclusivist understanding of hell [that unless you explicitly accept and follow Jesus, you are excluded from eternal life with God and destined for hell]."11
      1. Universalism is an unbiblical and anti-Christian teaching that everyone will be saved.  This is contrary to scripture and McLaren should know this from such verses as Matt. 25:46 and Mark 3:29).
    3. Hell isn't about the afterlife: "Fourth, we should consider the possibility that many, and perhaps even all of Jesus’ hell-fire or end-of-the-universe statements refer not to postmortem judgment but to the very historic consequences of rejecting his kingdom message of reconciliation and peacemaking. The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 67-70 seems to many people to fulfill much of what we have traditionally understood as hell."12
      1. How can he miss this?  Jesus clearly taught post-mortem judgment.  McLaren is way off base.  Matt. 3:12 says, "And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."   Mark 9:43 says, "And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire."  Matt. 18:8 says, "And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire."
  7. Homosexuality:
    1. Let's offend no one regarding homosexuality: "Asked at a conference last spring what he thought about gay marriage, Brian McLaren replied, "You know what, the thing that breaks my heart is that there's no way I can answer it without hurting someone on either side."13
      1. Who says the issue is about offending anyone?  The issue is about truth!  What does God's word say about homosexuality?  It condemns it as a sin and that is what it is.  McLaren should state so. Of course, this does not mean that we are to be offensive to homosexuals needlessly.  We are to love them and be patient with them.  But we also need to tell them the truth when the time is right.
    2. Is homosexuality wrong?  Maybe, maybe not: "Frankly, many of us don't know what we should think about homosexuality. We've heard all sides but no position has yet won our confidence so that we can say "it seems good to the Holy Spirit and us." That alienates us from both the liberals and conservatives who seem to know exactly what we should think. Even if we are convinced that all homosexual behavior is always sinful, we still want to treat gay and lesbian people with more dignity, gentleness, and respect than our colleagues do. If we think that there may actually be a legitimate context for some homosexual relationships, we know that the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered, and the pastoral ramifications are staggeringly complex. We aren't sure if or where lines are to be drawn, nor do we know how to enforce with fairness whatever lines are drawn."14
      1. In my opinion, McLaren is far too concerned with political correctness and is not concerned enough with biblical fidelity.  He is right in that we need to treat gay and lesbian people with dignity and respect.  They are, after all, made in God's image.  But, the practice of homosexuality is a sin against the law of God.  He cannot excuse it by saying he doesn't know what to think about homosexuality.

My conclusion is that McLaren has no business teaching Christian theology.  It is a sad thing that his books are as popular as they are among Christians.  It is not surprising that in a world of relativism and feel-good theology, his writings flourish.  But they - along with other unbiblical teachings - will face their demise when Jesus Christ returns as the righteous king who will separate the sheep from the goats.





  • 1. McLaren, Brian, A Generous Orthodoxy, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004, p. 164.
  • 2. Ibid., 296, italics in the original.
  • 3. Ibid., p.93.
  • 4. Ibid., 77.
  • 5. Ibid., 74.
  • 6. Ibid., p. 75.
  • 7. Ibid., p. 31.
  • 8. Ibid., p. 147.
  • 9.
  • 10. McLaren, p. 112.
  • 11.
  • 12.
  • 13.,9171,1022583-10,00.html.
  • 14.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.