On Friday I had the pleasure of taking Brian McLaren to Goshen College. Brian is the elder spokesman for what is called the "Emergent Church." The Emergent or emerging church basically consists of those, especially younger people, aged 20-35, who seek to have conversation about and trying experiments in moving forward the ministry of Jesus in new and different ways; many times unconventional to the traditional church. They are moving forward in a time when change is a constant and many struggle with what this movement seeks. The major criticisms are about their theology, which tends to be further from conservative, is more open (inclusive), often denies hell, and does not deny the substitutionary atonement of Christ but is close to it.
The Emergent Church is generally disillusioned with the organized, institutional church as it has existed through the 20th century (whether fundamentalist, liberal, megachurch, or tall-steeple liturgical). Its strengths are creative, energetic, youthful, authentic, highly relational. Its weaknesses are somewhat cynical, disorganized, sometimes reckless (even in the theological ideas willing to be entertained), immature.
Brian has received a great deal of criticism. He was wonderfully open to talk to about leadership, family, faith, his books, his theology, his critics and more. While I don't embrace Brian's theology, I have a greater appreciation of the wrestling which occurs when you live in the gray zone of life, and you have the authenticity to talk about it. Many people relish the black and white world because it makes everything fit into tidy sections, Brian does not.
Evidence of Brian's respect among the younger generation can be seen by the fact that he was speaking at Goshen College and will be back at Anderson College in September. His main theological views about life stem from the belief that we are called to live the great life today, and not worry so much about heaven. I sense there is not a very high view of heaven or hell for Brian, but we did not focus on that for long.
Anyway, it was a great opportunity to sit for 2 1/2 hours with an important Christian leader. He could have put on music, made phone calls, but he sat and talked; and I appreciate that very much.