Episcopal Life Online: Emergent evangelist challenges Lambeth Conference to speak to a new world

McLaren says Anglicanism is uniquely positioned make disciples

[Episcopal News Service, Canterbury] Anglicanism has “great, great advantages at this moment” in the world’s history to help people become “authentic followers of Jesus Christ,” evangelist Brian McLaren told a July 21 plenary session of the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

McLaren, a non-denominational pastor who lectures and writes about modern-day evangelism and whom Time magazine named one of American’s
25 most influential evangelicals, spoke to the bishops and their spouses and guests on the evening of July 21 in the Big Top, a circus tent pitched in a parking lot of the University of Kent in Canterbury.

McLaren told participants that “on our one planet now we have three worlds co-existing:” a pre-modern world, a modern world and an emerging world. He said evangelism may feel “effortless” when pre-modern people are entering the modern world because “the Christian church so effectively became connected with modern culture.”

Meanwhile, churches in the modern world are either “static or declining,” he said, noting that most church growth comes from people shifting denominations and “evangelism is hard to come by.”

“Our structures for evangelism and for the formation of disciples are becoming tourist attractions,” he said.

At the overlap between the modern world and the emerging world, “you might say the evangelism is almost non-existent because the Christian faith is, to be very frank, almost non-existent,” McLaren said.

Source: Episcopal Life Online – NEWS

He told the story of a tortoise in an African zoo that resisted even acknowledging the presence of an orphan baby hippo that zookeepers had found wandering on a beach and placed in the placid tortoise’s enclosure. Over time the young hippo’s persistence in searching for companionship changed the tortoise’s attitude from rejection to adoption. The institutional church could be compared to the tortoise, he said, and the emerging global culture to the orphaned hippo.

McLaren said the emerging culture “has been orphaned by religion — religion has stopped answering its questions, it stopped making sense, it was very willing to withdraw into its shell and have the world fall apart.” He said the culture has also been orphaned by science “that promised solution but ended up giving only more deadly weapons. And it turns out that many of yesterday’s solutions caused today’s terrifying problems.” Members of this world have also been orphaned by technology, economic systems and consumerism and by “governments that continually promised them the world and continually deliver pitifully mediocre results.”

McLaren told the participants that he spoke to them “on behalf of the people who never show up in your church…the multitude of people who have been created in the image of God, but who have never known the redeeming of the spirit of God through the good news of Jesus Christ.”

He urged the bishops and others to avoid being caught up in what he called “internal institutional maintenance” because of what he called the church’s “outward mission of forming disciples among all people” is the only way to save the world. That mission, he said, is also “our only hope of saving the church from division, diversion, implosion, irrelevance, and triviality.”

McLaren called on the bishops and others to recognize and use Anglicanism’s characteristics and diversity to make disciples in the emerging world. “Some of the best teachers explaining the Gospel of the kingdom of God are Anglicans,” he said.

He said movements within the Anglican Communion, such as the Church of England’s Fresh Expressions effort and the Alpha Course, are “wonderful, creative” ways of bringing Christianity into that world.

In addition, “the fact that you are a global communion means that you are forced to realize that different cultures are dealing with different struggles — there’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” he said. Acknowledging that those diverse contexts are the “source of some of the struggles in the communion,” McLaren said they can be a “great asset if you realize that we’re in different place, different contexts [and] we have different challenges.”

Anglican liturgy, he said, “makes space for spiritual seekers in a way that a lot of mean-spirited Protestant preaching doesn’t.” The liturgy offers “beauty, mystery, intelligence, clarity,” he added.

And, “you have one of the great advantages, especially in the West,” he said to chuckles from the audience. “You actually need to get this right” in order to grow.

“Having a spreadsheet that looks like this can be a great gift in hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “But the question is: who will set an example for the Anglicans of the world — an example breaking free from internal institutional maintenance and endless internal debate?”

McLaren said that “decisions could be made in this gathering that I believe really could change history — of setting the challenge of entering this emerging, post-modern world as disciples, as apostles of Jesus Christ, we could change history.”

The big decisions, he added, “are not about what a lot of people think they’re about.” They’re about “not being so pre-occupied about the 99 inside that we forget about one outside” and they’re not about setting up committees, programs and budget.

“What I think we need more than anything else is the actual passion of the example of bishops who themselves — and their spouses — who really care about this issue,” he said.

“What new, unimagined capacity could be stirred up in the church if we re-discovered and re-prioritized our outward mission to be the hands and feet and eyes and ears, the presence of Jesus Christ to a world in desperate need? What would happen if we turned that outward mission into the good news of hope?”

McLaren cautioned that the work is about more than just reaching out. “And if they do come into our churches, we ought to ask ourselves, what Gospel will they hear?” he said. “Will it be the gospel of evacuation (to heaven after death) or will it be Jesus’ gospel, the Gospel of the kingdom of God, the message that brings reconciliation, hope, transformation and engagement?”

During a question-and-answer session, McLaren was asked what message the exclusion from the conference of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson sends to the emerging world. Young people around the world want to see “how we treat marginalized people” and how “Christians love one another when they disagree,” he said.

“The great thing about this question is that it really brings to light something that I think is worth everybody realizing,” McLaren told the audience. These struggles can be talked about in terms of theology or mission, he said.

“To deal with this issue of human sexuality in some places in the world is very different than in other places in the world,” McLaren said. “If you are deeply, deeply committed to making followers of Jesus Christ, you have to be conscious of those settings and the real challenge is the person in [one] setting to be conscious of the difficulties of the person in [the other] setting.”

He suggested a year or two spent treating the issue of human sexuality as a “missiological problem” could help by lending the struggle “a different lens.” Acknowledging the difficulties of doing this in pre-dominantly Muslim countries, McLaren said that if non-westerners could imagine pastoring in San Francisco or Washington, D.C., “they would realize that suddenly a theoretical issue became very, very personal.”

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