Brian McLaren thinks it's time to rewrite "pro-war" hymns

"To continue reshaping faith in America, McLaren is also re-writing traditional Christian hymns, especially those he and others consider dangerously outdated theologically." BNG

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Aaron Blumer's picture


How come nobody ever talks about "dangerously up to date?" or "dangerously untested"?

As for the hymns, several of these weren't very good to begin with... not worth the bother to rewrite at all, much less into this week's politically correct "theology." Just scrap them.

Some of the better ones are clearly not about geopolitical war at all...  too sophisticated for BM I guess.

Andrew K's picture

I've noticed lately how the Left has began to appropriate "warfare" language for their own cause now. For example, all this talk now about "allies,' as in "LGBT or allies" if you aren't yourself part of a community but support the cause.

Not sure what to make of this, but doubt it bodes well. The Left has been nothing if not masterful in its manipulation of language. There's a reason why the English Dept. is the most dangerous of all university departments.

TylerR's picture


One of the chief offenders, McLaren told Baptist News Global, is Onward, Christian Soldiers, the 19th-century English hymn that connects Christian beliefs with militaristic images and metaphors

I'll set aside any comment on whether "Onward Christian Soldiers" is a good hymn, and focus on McLaren's aversion to warfare and spiritual victory. This kind of drivel will only work for people who envision Jesus as a meek, mild-mannered fellow with long, flowing, shampoo-model like hair who sits on green hillsides, holds fluffy white sheep on His lap and bounces little kids on His knee. 

Read Ps 110:

  • Christ will strike down kings and political leaders when He returns
  • He will execute judgment over the earth
  • He will fill the whole earth with dead bodies
  • He will smash and shatter heads throughout many nations

Read Ps 2:

  • Christ will break rebels with a rod of iron
  • He will smash rebels into pieces like a potter's vessel

Read Rev 19:

  • An angel calls to the birds of the air to come and eat the rotting flesh of all of Christ's slain enemies (Rev 19:17-18)

This is a long way from the blasphemous stereotype of the Jesus with the fluffy sheep. Consider Voddie Baucham's opening remarks from his sermon at the 2014 G3 Conference:

The pictures that we do have of Jesus [in popular culture] are pictures of a European metrosexual, with the hair of a shampoo-model, hands that have never seen a hard day's work, and feet that have never walked a mile. That's the visual image that we have of Jesus. A sissified, feminized, European, gorgeous picture. 

The only reason why folks like McLaren and others can have such faulty views of Jesus is because they don't feel beholden to the Bible. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

I will concede an unease with verse 3 of Onward Christian Soldiers, as claiming we're all united is just a mockery in light of our "right boot of fellowship" and the "Baptist church plant" too often being nothing more than a church split.  However, it strikes me that McLaren's point is really mostly that the members of too many churches are so theologically shallow (see Tyler's comment) that they don't get how a Christian soldier ought to wage the war of faith.  Our Lord is not the Breck Girl with a beard, as Tyler notes, and it is no credit to McLaren's teaching and preaching that those in his sphere of influence apparently haven't come up to speed on Ephesians 6 and 2 Timothy 2, not to mention the lives of Moses, Joshua, and David.

My take is generally--having cringed at the rewrites liberal churches do to my favorite hymns--that if you want to advance the musical conversation in the church, you need to sing the Psalms and learn the genre that God established, and then you're going to be equipped to take other concepts from the Scripture and write something of your own.  Don't mess with the old hymns, though, unless there truly is something obviously objectionable about them that can be easily fixed without too much damage to the poetry.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

pvawter's picture

"It would be very different if it identified “the foe” as, for example, corporate greed, racism, domestic violence, apathy or pride."

I'm curious what a hymn decrying "corporate greed" would sound like? In which part of the service would it be appropriate? I can't quite wrap my head around it. 

Aaron Blumer's picture


To me, rewriting old hymns is like rebuilding Washington's Mt. Vernon or Jefferson's Monticello... replacing stone with concrete and wood with vinyl siding... put thermal coated casement windows in there! 

Could these venerable old building be improved? Sure. They were designed and built by human beings, after all. But that's not the point: they are history. They are an important connection with the past, imperfect though that past may be.

... and who's to decide what should be "improved" and in what ways?

As for "corproate greed," there's a reason the Bible doesn't talk about it much, besides the fact that there weren't "corporations" at the time. The reason is that corporate greed is nothing more than individual greed. Liberal social/political/economic philosophy is constantly inventing new abstractions to denounce, keeping them as vaguely defined as possible so they can have their cake and eat it too. "Corporate greed" is the Clinton Foundation just as much as "wall street." Organizing as a "non profit" doesn't change human nature.

alex o.'s picture

Christian pacifism seems rooted in Anabaptist thought (as well as separation from"the world" whatever that means by the proponents).

I have been reading some Anabaptist thought and history and remember the movement as studied in Church History classes. From reading the bible (the Christian's primary source) and understanding and appreciating Biblical Theology, I cannot subscribe to the raw pacifism of Piper and McLaren and of Anabaptist Thought. Neither a "separation from the world" idea that is closely related. Sure, in some ways Christians are to be separate in heart and practice but defining *what is meant* can diverge to vastly separate streams of thought and practice.

The message of God to Jeremiah for the exiles in Babylon was: "pray for the captor's country and system and if they prosper, you too will prosper." Further, notice how Daniel operated in Babylonian and Persian government administrations and one sees God's people using human governments to preserve themselves and the truth of scripture. The same can be said of Joseph in Egyptian bondage. These administrations were Pagan and were permeated with false religion yet both Joseph (who became a priest in the Egyptian Religious system, for what else would Pharaoh do with someone who had the "spirit of the holy god in them?") and Daniel (who received a demonic name and still had "the spirit of the holy gods in them") functioned for preservation of their people and others as well in these beastly systems.

Look at Nehemiah, the cup bearer of Artaxerxes (which was probably one of the most trusted positions in government), how he used his position to reestablish safety for the Jews in rebuilding Jerusalem and preserved their religious distinction.

These examples with the accounts of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (and others) do not show disengagement from the world. As Paul states: "we are in the world, but not of it." This speaks of integration of the Christian in his society. This is so different from Anabaptist (and modern Baptist) general thinking and practice. 

The defense of our values and freedoms from opposing movements and government entities flows naturally from being integrated into society. This is different from trying to conquer the planet and make it Christian somewhat like past Christian efforts (Crusades). So I see McLaren as sort of misguided and both scripturally and theologically wrong in this area. Of course he is wrong in many other areas as well in my view.

Additionally, as a corollary to the examples of biblical persons who worked in governmental administrations, interpretational insights may possibly be derived to give clues to future events and movements. I want to be cautious, but the more I look at biblical accounts, I am beginning to see some of these *world beasts* (Daniel 2 and 7) as somewhat beneficial but then later seemingly *taken over* by evil. So it would not surprise me, for instance, a world power would arise to suppress terrorism rightly and then be supplanted by an evil person. 

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

Aaron Blumer's picture


It's true that many (most?) of the early Anabaptists had a view of the world and of war that goes beyond Scripture... and fails the test of internal consistency. (Once you start reasoning "we don't do X because it's what 'the world' does" you are on a path that will end in self-contradiction. Overlap w/"the world" in the sense of culture/society/civilization is not what Scripture forbids and is unavoidable in any case--even when groups resort to isolating themselves in a cave or, as in 16th century Munster, basically take over a city.)

But their pacifism, though it ends up with very similar aims, is different from modern Liberal anti-war thought. In McClaren's case, his thoughts would be more admirable if he was thinking like an anabaptist/old-school Mennonite, etc. But he seems to be much more driven by "up to date" social philosophy on the Left.

A key difference:

  • Anabaptists -- society and its conflicts are none of our business since this world is not our home
  • Liberal anti-war -- society must continue to evolve toward the eventually unavoidable utopia but constantly throwing off traditions.... and war is a very old stupid tradition we will outgrow... And America is a big international bully driven by the "military industrial complex."... and "nations and groups really all want the same thing and so if we just all listen to and understand one another, we will have peace."   ... and other naive notions.
alex o.'s picture

Yeah, give peace a chance. Yes, I agree with you Aaron about naive notions of peace. I am all for peace and peaceful coexistence where possible but cannot stick my head in the sand like McLaren and other ideologues want to propose.

Instead of praying: "Your Kingdom come," they pray our idea of the kingdom come. They have not correctly understood the scriptures.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield