Franciscan Spirituality Center920 Market StreetLa Crosse, WI 54601608-791-5295https://www.fscenter.orgSteve Spilde: Today, it is my great privilege to welcome Brian McLaren to the podcast. Brian isa father, a husband, a preacher, a teacher, and the best-selling author of more than 20 books.Richard Rohr has said, “Anything written by Brian McLaren is always filled with insight,courage, and creative theology, refining the meaning of orthodoxy in our time.” Brian, I amhonored to welcome you to the podcast.Brian McLaren: I’ve been looking forward to this, so I’m happy to be with you, Steve.Steve: Brian, your new book is titled, “Do I Stay Christian?” In the beginning, you outline 11different ways that one may identify as a Christian. As you’ve grown throughout your life, whatare some different ways that your personal meaning of what it means to be Christian has evolvedand changed?Brian: I think this is part of what makes the discussion of Christian identity so complicated. It’sdefined in such opposite ways by different people. I grew up in a very conservative Protestantfamily in the context people that today would call “fundamentalists.” In that context,Christianity was defined primarily as a belief system. You had to adhere to certain beliefs, andthose beliefs identified you as a Christian. I think also, our little group emphasized experience.There were certain spiritual experiences that you were supposed to have that would identify youas a Christian. That was really my framework growing up. The problems began for me when Ifound out that there were maybe the obvious list of beliefs that you had to have, and then therewas a bunch of fine print that kind of added to it. I remember being just a kid – sixth, seventh,eighth grade – and finding out that I wasn’t allowed to believe in evolution, where I’d alreadyread enough science books that that made sense to me. I remember thinking, “Oh, no, what’sthis all about?” But I think other people grew up in very different contexts. For some of them,they aren’t really faced with that many beliefs. But for them, it’s more of an institution, ormaybe even an authority structure that they are reverential toward. And for other people, itmight be actually more a matter of practices, like, “I go to church on Easter and Christmas, and Ihad my babies baptized. That means I’m a Christian.” That’s more of a pragmatic kind of anapproach.I think for some people these days, I hate to say it, but I think it’s true. There’s more of apolitical and social construct that if you vote for certain candidates or identify yourself culturallyin a certain way, you see yourself as Christian. And there are many other ways that peopledefine it as well.Steve: In what ways is your identity as a Christian more meaningful than ever? You’ve referredto how your perspective has changed. I assume that that label has more meaning to you ratherthan less.Brian: Yes, it does for me, Steve, although obviously for other people they have a veryinflexible definition that they’re given. They reach a point where they say, “Well, according toBrian McLaren Podcast2this definition, I don’t fit anymore.” That’s one of the reasons why many people leave theChristian faith. As I said, growing up with a list of beliefs and then finding out that there was alot of additional fine print, that had certain benefits because you were with a group of people youcould always be sure they agreed with you. And in a sense, and when you’re in that setting, youspoke the same language and you had the same assumptions and there was a feeling of safety,and there’s many other dimensions to it that were very reassuring and meaningful. As I said, italso became a little bit claustrophobic.In my own spiritual development, one of the things that pulled me through is that … This mightsound almost like I’m making a joke, but I mean this completely seriously, I became a pastor[and] I became a preacher and I actually had to read the Bible more, and I actually startedreading the Gospels more. And for me, my actual delight and fascination and interest in thisfigure Jesus Christ became more and more compelling to me. What I realized is that many ofthose very rigid definitions that I had learned from different Christian groups or denominationsor institutions were so out of sync with kind of the spirit and personality and value system ofJesus. That really is what has through the years become more and more meaningful for me.