Brian McLaren’s Schleiermacherian View of Orthodoxy (Stephen)

In a recent interview by Scot McKnight (via Robert E. Sagers), Brian McLaren says probably hundreds of things with which I disagree.  In particular, though, at about 7:00 in the interview he talks about rejecting the Greco-Roman history of Christianity in favor of liberation and queer theologies.

Although there are dozens of holes that one could poke in his argument, one thing specifically stands out to me: McLaren is utterly convinced that there is an emotional and social content to “the Gospel” that is not culturally embedded via the mainstream history of early Christianity.  When he talks about “the faith,” he makes it clear that he is rejecting the notion of a “historic faith” as a set of orthodox beliefs and liturgical practices in favor of a notion of “faith” as individual emotional dependence on God, with social consequences.

This is hardly different (especially given their mutual tendency to pander to current fashions among the cultural elite) from the theology of Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of Protestant liberalism.  So congratulations, Brian McLaren, you’ve reinvented a certain non-functioning wheel, the use of which is at the core of a whole segment of what used to be evangelicalism.

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  • Darin Fawley  On August 17, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    “Non-functioning”? Speak for yourself (as you, in fact, are doing).

    • Stephen  On August 17, 2010 at 10:17 pm

      I should have remembered that Schleiermacher has one loyal defender left out there. In retrospect, “non-functioning wheel” sounds really unfair to him, but what I meant is that Schleiermacherian Christianity doesn’t seem to reproduce itself very well because it fails to give people a reason to care. I would level the same accusation (though a bit less stridently) against Barth: His theology might or might not be true, but it doesn’t seem to have the ability to convincingly connect with people who aren’t in seminary in such a way as to propagate the faith. I’ve written and will soon post (on my own blog) a short essay on this topic (Protestantism as boiling down to little more than emotion and ethics).

  • Darin Fawley  On August 17, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    I have no personal stake in defending Schleiermacher. My point is broader. The fact that you can speak of a “Schleiermacherian Christianity” betrays the fact that there are (many, many) Christians who adhere to some version of his theology, so it is most certainly ‘functioning.’ You just don’t like the way it functions.

    • Stephen  On August 17, 2010 at 11:03 pm

      Good point. I guess I tend to think that “Schleiermacherian Christianity” is always just a hair’s breadth away from dissipating, that it is not convincing enough to win either converts or the children of its adherents (but its truth or falsity is a different question). So it’s not whether it exists that concerns me, but whether it is self-propagating or only parasitical and reliant on more extreme modes of belief. By “functioning,” then, I mean evangelizing.

    • Stephen  On August 17, 2010 at 11:07 pm

      For an illustration of what I am talking about, see this short article on Catholicism in Boston:

      While a lot of people would blame this turn of events on the pedophilia scandal, based on personal observation it seems to me to be more a result of younger people whose parents’ were more or less Schleiermacherian in their views not finding any reason to care about Christianity anymore. I don’t blame them.


  • […] and emotional predilections.  Thus, it is understandable why someone like Brian McLaren is both rehashing Schleiermacher’s theology and becoming increasingly vague as to what his doctrinal positions […]

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