Brian McLaren is one of many people interviewed in Becky Garrison’s Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church. An excerpt from one of these interviews stuck out for me (p.50-53) as he talks about empire-building and postcolonialism.
Speaking of contemporary situations, let’s talk about the challenges you see as the church moves from modernity to postmodernity.
Brian McLaren: There is so much argument about the word postmodern that the first thing I say is that people should be careful about reducing a very complex subject to a one dimensional kind of binary opposition where you throw everything into a blue modern bin or a green postmodern bin. I’ve always said that life is much more complex than that. Besides, in the last couple years, I have become more convinced that a better word than postmodern is postcolonial.
Brian McLaren: As soon as you start talking about postmodernism, people want to argue about theories of knowledge and certainty, a field called epistemology. You end up with layers and layers of thinking about thinking about thinking about thinking. That’s not unimportant, but it’s certainly not the whole story. The other side of the coin is to talk about the ways claims about knowledge and certainty are used to fight or perpetuate injustice. And that’s the postcolonial discussion: looking back on five hundred years of colonization by so-called “Christian” nations and asking, “What were we thinking? How did we justify the terrible things that were done? How can we be sure we don’t do that sort of thing again in the future?”
The real issue, in my mind, is not simply an argument about truth; it’s the need for repentance about the abuse of power—especially by white Christians who used the Bible to justify some pretty horrific things, whether we’re talking about the genocide of native peoples, the African slave trade, the Holocaust, apartheid, or whatever. While we claim a high level of certainty in regards to matters of truth, we have shown ourselves to be relatively clueless about matters of justice. I’m not advocating uncertainty at all; I’m all for having a proper confidence, but I also want us to think about how we can be more gentle and humane in the way they treat other people, especially people whom we feel don’t see the truth as we do.
…[discussion of emerging church]…
Why is the emergent church going gangbusters in the UK and this British invasion is just starting to hit the US shores?
Brian McLaren: I can think of two main reasons. First, the UK is one of the premier postcolonial nations in the world, while the United States is just getting its colonial testosterone running in its system. So, the United States is trying to build an empire, but the UK is living in the aftermath of what it means to have an empire. That makes Christians in the US a lot less reflective, a lot more prone to say “Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing, but doing it more and louder and harder and faster.” In places like the UK and across Western and Eastern Europe, they’re way beyond that. Second, in the UK, they’re generally up to their neck in postmodern philosophy—what you might call a post-Christian culture. I’ve heard it said that more people go to Ikea in London on a weekend than to church. They’re in a different missional situation. Our churches in the US still think they’re strong, even though they’re stagnant in terms of growth. We don’t realize how naked the emperor is yet because we have a lot of money, and political power, and a larger percentage of regular attenders at our services.