Emergent Church Guru Addresses Virginia Episcopal Seminary Commencement

Brian McLaren Advises Graduates to “Smoke What You’re Selling”
Jeff Walton

The following article originally appeared in Forward in Christ Magazine, and is reproduced with permission.

“Emergent Church” guru Brian McLaren, a prominent voice on the evangelical left, is increasingly high profile as a speaker in the Episcopal Church. Most recently, he gave the commencement address at Virginia Theological Seminary.

“I can guarantee that if you do your job right, there will always be for you, as there was for him [Jesus Christ], a crowd of religious critics standing by to tell you how you did it, when you did it, what you said, and how you said it were not up to their standards,” McLaren told the graduating Episcopal seminarians in Alexandria, Virginia. “You will learn that there are two paths of martyrdom – one leading into the den of ravenous lions and the other through the valley of nibbling ducks.”


Emergent Church pastor and author Brian McLaren gives a keynote address at the Episcopal Church’s 2009 General Convention.

The controversial author and self-identified evangelical was chosen to deliver keynote addresses at the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church as well as the convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and the recent Episcopal Village conference in Baltimore. At the same time, McLaren has drawn fire from an increasing number of fellow evangelicals, most recently for his book A New Kind of Christianity, in which he questions traditional views of Christ’s death as an atonement for sin.

The Episcopal events at which McLaren spoke were controversial in their own right. The 2009 General Convention adopted resolutions favoring openly homosexual partnered bishops and same-sex union rites, while the Los Angeles convention elected Mary Glasspool as the first openly partnered lesbian bishop in the Anglican Communion.

McLaren began his address at the Episcopal seminary by briefly reflecting on what he called “the Episcopal moment,” a time when the denomination had extraordinary opportunities before it.

“I believe you are graduating from seminary at a pregnant moment in the history of the Episcopal Church,” McLaren said, without going into detail about what the opportunities were.

Despite his position as a nondenominational pastor, McLaren himself has a history with Anglicanism and told the seminary graduates that he had “a special love for the Episcopal Church.”

“The best pastor I ever had was an Episcopal priest in this diocese, and through his encouragement I prayerfully considered coming to this seminary about 30 years ago,” McLaren said. “Although I felt I was led into another path, serving in nondenominational settings over the years, I must admit I have an Anglican heart, shaped by the Prayer Book and deepened by the liturgy.”

McLaren worshipped and taught Bible studies for several years at the Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, Virginia. Apostles is a charismatic parish which departed the Episcopal Church in 2007 and is no longer part of the Diocese of Virginia.

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