Brian D. McLaren: The Great Spiritual Migration

How the World’s Largest Religion is
Seeking a Better Way to be Christian
by Brian D. McLaren
Crown/Penguin/Random House Publishing
2017. 274 pages. Paperback. $17.75 CAD
ISBN #978–60142-792-2.
Publisher’s Promo:
The Christian story, from Genesis until now, is fundamentally
about people on the move – outgrowing old, broken religious
systems and embracing new, more redemptive ways of life.
It’s time to move again.
Brian McLaren, a leading voice in contemporary religion,
argues that – notwithstanding the dire headlines about the
demise of faith and drop in church attendance – Christian
faith is not dying. Rather, it is embarking on a once-in-an-
era spiritual shift.For millions, the journey has already begun.

Drawing from his work as global activist, pastor, and
public theologian, McLaren challenges readers to stop
worrying, waiting, and indulging in nostalgia, and instead,
to embrace the powerful new understandings that are
reshaping the church. In “The Great Spiritual Migration”
he explores three profound shifts that define the change:

Spiritually, growing numbers of Christians are moving
away from defining themselves by lists of beliefs and
toward a way of life defined by love. Theologically,
believers are increasingly rejecting the image of God
as a violent Supreme Being and embracing the image
of God as the renewing Spirit at work in our world for
the common good.

Missionally, the faithful are identifying less with organized
religion and more with organizing religion – spiritual activists
dedicated to healing the planet, building peace, overcoming
poverty and injustice, and collaborating with other faiths to
ensure a better future for all of us.

With his trademark brilliance and compassion, McLaren
invites readers to seize the moment and set out on the
most significant spiritual pilgrimage of our time: to help
Christianity become more Christian.

Author’s Words:

I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian tradition. If we would have had a motto it might have been “we shall not be moved”… but by my teenage years, it was clear that I simply didn’t fit into that box…. I developed as an Evangelical Christian. It was a big step into more freedom. I became a church planter and pastor, and felt very much at home. I had already come a long way…

I found myself perched on the progressive margin of  Evangelicalism and began writing books on what I considered themes that were dear to Evangelicals, but quickly learned that there were many zealous gatekeepers who were eager to purge anyone to their theological or cultural left and my location in Evangelicalism grew more tenuous. 

Over time, I concluded that I could no longer fit into a static faith – neither fundamentalist, Evangelical or liberal. For me it is not a matter of “where I stand” but where I’m headed.

Christian faith, for me, is no longer a static location but a great spiritual journey. And that changes everything.

As I see it, religion is at its best when it leads us forward, when it guides us in our spiritual growth as individuals and in our cultural evolution as a species.  Unfortunately, religion often becomes more of a cage than a guide, holding us back rather than summoning us onward.

In times of rapid and ambiguous change, a regressive turn in religion is understandable, but it is even more tragic when a culture needs wise spiritual guidance the most, all it gets from religious leaders is anxious condemnation and critique. Today, we see this regressive pull in many sectors of Christianity, as well as sectors of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and other religions too.

In that light, its no surprize that people by the millions are moving away from traditional religions entirely, often into secularism. But from this evolving spiritual transition, voices of change, hope, imagination and new beginnings are emerging.

We are being invited into a great spiritual migration as hopeful pilgrims moving forward in the journey of faith.

This book is an invitation to get involved, to come along, to help create a better future for our faith and for our world.

(Studying the phenomenon of the migration of birds has been a good model for me to employ in my thinking and writing. So, I want to share some of the insights I have learned from bird migratory behaviour.)

I hope you will find in these pages even better reasons for hope, along with an invitation to re-engage, to join in this epic migratory practice, this transforming quest, this great spiritual migration toward a better way of being Christian, and a better way of being human.

– words and resulting interpretation from the Preface

Author’s Bio:Brian D. McLaren is a Christian thinker, author, and activist.
A former pastor with a background in literature, McLaren is
the author of over a dozen books, an Auburn Senior Fellow,
and boardchair of Convergence (
McLaren’s Wikipedia Bio:

Review by Wayne Holst
My Thoughts:

I suspect that for most people in modern society, religion and faith are more associated with returning to basics, fundamentals and accepted beliefs than as a means of venturing into an unknown future with confidence and trust. For McLaren, however, his experience and his own personal psychology have transformed him from viewing religion as a foundation for life to faith as an inspiration for living into the future.This book is devoted to helping people move beyond a fear of flying. In that regard, it is unique, and an important reason why I believe it is an important title to be reading and studying at this point in our history.

One of the great gifts I inherited from my church background was that of “living by faith” and not, ultimately, by tradition. Unfortunately, some of my best teachers about living by faith were unable to help me when I, like McLaren, needed them most. 

The real world is a scary place for many people, and while religious faith is often applauded, it does not have a good track record when the chips are down. That may be the reason so many today, including our youth, consider much of what passes for faith in our time as hypocrisy. I believe many of us stand under judgement at this point. We lack integrity and our words do not align with our behaviour.

I know that has been true in my life. I have failed some who needed to share a living faith with me. But I was too committed to defending the past than to walking faithfully with them into an unknown future.

A book like The Great Spiritual Migration can be a wakeup call and a prod to deeper spiritual questing and growth simply because its faith focus is on the future, not the past.

This does not mean that we accept everything McLaren has to say without question. I believe he very much wants us to test his assumptions as well as our own.

As with many of the books we have studied at our church over the years, this one is presented as a challenge to past thinking, and an invitation to venture in new spiritual ways. It is not meant to be a blueprint for correct behaviour.

We would be wise to study a book like this with others. It is also valuable to follow the spiritual biography of its author and  to bring our own personal experience to bear on what he has to say.

“Anything written by Brian McLaren is always
filled with insight, courage, and creative theology,
refining the meaning of orthodoxy in our time.
Read this and surely enjoy it, for it will assure
you that you are not crazy making in what you
are seeing and suffering today.”– Richard Rohr
“With the wisdom of a seasoned teacher and the
compassion of a dear friend, Brian McLaren once
again pastors the reader through some of the most
pressing and important questions of our time.The
Great Spiritual Migration puts into words what
so many people of faith are experiencing, and in a
way that is at once accessible and profound,
challenging and deeply comforting. You will reach
the final page feeling inspired, understood, and a
little less alone. McLaren’s writing has long been a
gift to the Church, and to the world. This may be
his most important work yet.”– Rachel Held Evans

“A refreshingly honest, totally committed, enriching
and profound analysis of the Spiritual Moment that
is changing all our lives. If you are concerned – and
at the same time excited – by what is going in
churches these days, read this book. Both hope
and a path to it await you here.

– Joan Chittister


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Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for 25 years. He taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and co-ordinates adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.
Colleagues List, Vol. XIV. No. 22. December 9, 2018

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