Reply to Brian McLaren: If Church is the Problem, Maybe We Should Get Rid of It

I have to confess that Brian McLaren’s piece Seminary Is Not the Problem — the Church Is is one of the most curious pieces I have ever read.  It’s not often that an academic (?) so baldly proclaims that the “real world” is so deficient that it should be remoulded to follow the academic one but that’s exactly what he’s doing.

My own career spans both the commercial and ecclesiastical worlds, and some (current) academic experience to boot.  It’s hard to know where to start to respond to such a thesis, but let me start here: if I were to get up and proclaim to my peers that the civil engineering practice and its practitioners were so hopelessly philistine that the entire profession should be overturned to be more like engineering schools, I would be laughed out of the room.

In my profession, the whole point of education is to prepare men and women for an effective career designing and bringing to reality things that ultimately are safe and useful to the public.  Academia is an important anchor in the scheme of things but ultimately it’s the work product of those who come out of our institutions of learning that defines our profession to the public and ourselves.  And that largely takes place outside of the halls of ivy (or kudzu in this part of the country.)  Academia’s role is best when it serves the world around it, which is the best form of leadership.  (I wonder where the idea of leading by serving comes from…)

There are always those who do best in an academic environment.  But to say that the church world is so dull that it needs to be more like seminary (and anyone who’s been around academia of any kind knows that we carry our sinful nature there, too) has put the cart before the horse.

Taking McLaren’s sweeping generalisations for what they’re worth, there’s one statement that has a ring of truth:

It may sound harsh for me to say, but I think it is unethical to send gifted, idealistic, and high-potential young leaders into intractable, dysfunctional congregations that will grind them up, disillusion them, and damage them for life.

Most churches are unsuited for the ministers that our seminaries produce.  But he needs to be careful in making that proclamation: if Evangelical Christianity had a stronger system of lay discipleship, many of our ministers would be redundant.  If that ever happened, our seminaries would be in serious trouble, because it would fundamentally challenge the whole ministry paradigm that is their raison d’être.

McLaren’s solution would get rid of church as we largely know it.  He needs to be careful: he many end up getting rid of seminary as we know it too, if some of us get to take things to their logical conclusion.

HT to Regent University’s Kim Alexander for putting me on to this.

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