I've never read a Brian McLaren book, but I do read articles by and about him on occasion. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don't. But when I read his answer to this question, I could not have answered any better than he did. His experience, in some ways, parallels mine. Brian was asked: "You get a lot of criticism from evangelicals, yet you seem to always maintain a very winsome and open spirit. What keeps you in such a positive and calm frame of mind when just about everybody else seems agitated for one reason or another?"
I grew up in an extremely conservative and contentious fundamentalist movement or sect. It was filled with wonderful people who loved God, but the sociology of the group depended on exclusion and exclusiveness. When I "emerged" from that exclusive fundamentalism into a broader evangelicalism, I was hoping to find less contention. And I think I did. But in recent years, I think a contentious form of fundamentalism has been making a comeback and is in the process of a takeover attempt in evangelicalism. (I think similar movements are afoot in Catholicism and Mainline Protestantism too.) When I see this, I am not impressed by it, because I grew up with it and saw what it does to people.
I've learned in my own experience that it's way easier to think oneself right than to be loving. So Paul had it dead right when he said that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up, and that without love, no matter how right you are, you gain nothing but produce a lot of noise.
So really, I'm grateful for my religious heritage in fundamentalism. It taught me many things including that if you live by contention - theological swordplay, if you will - you will die by it. If you seek to argue and fight against an argumentative and combative spirit, you become what you are against. (Paul said that if you bite and devour each other, you'll consume each other, which describes our situation pretty well.) So my background forced me to seek a better way—what Paul calls the most excellent way, the way of love, the way of the Sermon on the Mount that transcends the way of the scribes and Pharisees.
Of course, I often trip up and slip back into things I am trying to grow beyond, but even that experience of failure humbles a person and makes it harder to try to put oneself in the position of an equal, much less a superior, in relation to one's fellow Christians. I guess so much comes back to Paul's words in Philippians 2, where he urges us to consider others as better than ourselves and to follow Jesus downward into servanthood.
What do you think of Brian's response?