McLaren’s Refreshing Winds at CMU – Part 1

Recently the MB Herald (December 2010 issue) ran a half page ad promoting Brian McLaren and the 2011 Biennial Conference at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg this February 3-5 (see MB Herald Promotes Brian McLaren). The conference was called Refreshing Winds, Here in This Place, Worship in Context (1). In his five plenary sessions McLaren talked about Naked Spirituality, which is the title of his next and soon to be released book (Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words). In the opening session he spoke on the different stages of spirituality, the first one being Simplicity (2).

Some of the things he mentioned during the first evening included the practices of simplicity, wonder, and experiencing the “hereness” and presence of God. McLaren said that we are all in “various stages of our ascent to full spectrum light,” and that there are a number of theorists who have influenced his thinking on these stages of life. These include the great romantic poet William Blake, Soren Keirkegard, James Fowler (3), and “Graves, Beck and Wilber, who have been talking a lot about stages of social development,” said McLaren.

Who are these men who have been so influential to McLaren? Are their theories based on God’s Word, or are they based on the philosophies of this world?

To begin with, who is James Fowler?

“Dr. James W. Fowler III is Professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University, and was director of both the Center for Research on Faith and Moral Development and the Center for Ethics until he retired in 2005. He is a minister in the United Methodist Church, and is best known for his book Stages of Faith, published in 1981, in which he sought to develop the idea of a developmental process in faith.
During the 2007 Integral Spiritual Center conference, Integral Institute paid a formal tribute to Dr. Fowler’s extraordinary body of work, presenting him with a very special lifetime achievement award—the first such Integral Spirituality Award ever given. It was an incredibly moving occasion for everyone involved, and remains one of the most poignant memories in Integral Spiritual Center’s already abundant legacy.”

Source: Stairways to Heaven: Honoring Dr. James Fowler
Contributors: Roland Stanich and Ken Wilber

[Note: This Integral Life (4) tribute to James Fowler was co-authored by Ken Wilber.]

Next, who are “Graves, Beck and Wilber”?

We already saw in 2007 that McLaren drew from the ‘systems theory’ of the late Clare W. Graves when he suggested that the kingdom of God should be understood as a ‘higher-order system that continually invites humanity to move upward in the “unfolding, emergent… spiraling process”’ (p 276, Everything Must Change). Graves theories were based on human systems and development, and were developed further into Spiral Dynamics, which revolves around human evolutionary development, and the elimination of old ways of thinking and shifting or awakening from lesser to greater complexity. When McLaren talks about theories of stages of development and faith, it is critical to understand that these ideas are based on the works of Clare Graves which have been popularized by Don Beck(5) and Ken Wilber(6).

Don Beck, creator of Spiral Dynamics, has co-authored a book with Christopher C. Cowan called Spiral Dynamics : Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change (Developmental Management) .

The back cover of this book tells us that these systems theories of evolutionary development mesh with those of atheist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins:

“Spiral Dynamics reveals the hidden codes that shape human nature, create global diversities, and drive evolutionary change. These magnetic forces attract and repel individuals, form the webs that connect people within organizations, and forge the rise and fall of nations and cultures. This book tracks our historic emergence from clans to tribes to networks and holograms; identifies seven Variations on Change, and adds power and precision to the design of human systems and 21st century leadership.
Spiral Dynamics is an extension and elaboration of the biopsychosocial systems concept of the late Clare W. Graves; work that Canada’s Maclean’s Magazine called ‘The Theory that Explains Everything’. The authors mesh UK biologist Richard Dawkins’ concept of ‘memes’ with Gravesian ‘value systems’ in crafting a timely transformational change formula and process. Their concept of MEMES represents the first major statement of the new ‘Science of Memetics.’
Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan, who were closely associated with Clare W. Graves, apply the principles of Spiral Dynamics worldwide in both corporate and top-level governmental sectors.”

Ken Wilber, best known for what he calls integral theory, is a respected and highly regarded theoretician in the New Age movement. Among the spiritual practices he promotes on his website are yoga, Zen, centering prayer, kabbalah, TM, tantra sexuality, and kundalini yoga. Of Don Beck’s theories, Wilber says that “Spiral Dynamics Integral is one of the first integral psychologies now available and, as presented by Don Beck, I give it my highest recommendation. It has profound implications for business, politics, education, and medicine, and it will give you the tools to begin applying these revolutionary ideas in your own field immediately. Don’t miss it!” ~ Ken Wilber, author-philosopher and president, Integral Institute (

The following gives a little more insight into the beliefs of these men who McLaren says have influenced his evolutionary thinking on the stages of life.

“…the theory of values development first postulated by Clare Graves was based on a research methodology of asking a single question to college students: Describe the behavior of a healthy human organism. Graves sorted the wide variety of answers to this question into a theory about the evolution of values through stages, from archaic, to magic, mythic, rational, post-rational (post-modern) integral, post-integral etc. Beck picked this up and expanded on it, creating Spiral Dynamics, which has a lot more features, including V memes (values DNA) , color coding of stages, gamma traps, and all the rest. Ken in turn picked this up because he needed something to put on the left hand (vertical) axis of his state-stage model– something that described stages of consciousness (shown on the vertical axis) in ways that were readily accessible and intuitively obvious to many people. In Ken’s model, ‘states’ of consciousness (shown on the horizontal axis) do not evolve. For example, experiencing emptiness is the same experience now as it was when the Buddha experienced it.”

The website where the above quote came from tells us that the framework for Evolutionary Christian Spirituality ( is Integral Spirituality (Ken Wilber), and that Dr. Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics provides a very helpful model for evolutionary development. Is it any wonder we see Brian McLaren in the midst of the evolutionary thinkers at Evolutionary Christianity? (See The Advent of Evolutionary Muddy ‘Christianity’.)

These are the values, beliefs and systems of the evolutionary theorists who have influenced Brian McLaren’s theories of faith stages, on which he has based his lecture series for the Refreshing Winds Conference at CMU.

About half way through his first talk about the four stages, which are related to ‘a book’ he has coming out (Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words), McLaren said we have to realize that in our dogmatic traditions every religion begins with mystical experiences. Then come the dogmas and arguments, because that’s how humans are, but “if we try to get back before the argument there is this naked encounter with the Divine. And that encounter is, all that it requires is that you be here, be present, to whoever and whatever is present.”

McLaren easily names influences Blake, Kierkegaard, Fowler, Graves, Beck and Wilber, but God is “whoever” or “whatever”(7) because, as McLaren had earlier mentioned, “as soon as we name God we start to get in trouble.” For believing this statement, McLaren is to be greatly pitied, as the Bible is filled with the names of God, and tells us that we can know Him. Instead, McLaren pities those who think they know the answers and are stuck in the naïve stage one mentality of “us vs. them.”

“And I feel so sorry for us all at this stage. We have so many blessings that come to us from 2000 years of church history, but do you ever just feel it’s a really heavy burden? Like to be a Christian you have to have an opinion on an awful lot of arguments – 2000 years of ‘em! And you’ve, you know, you didn’t ask for this. But as soon as you’re in – Calvinist/Armenian, charismatic/non charismatic, you know, inerrentist/not inerrentist, pro-gay/anti-gay, you know, there’s just a lot, you gotta have a lot of opinions about things. {audience laughter} But what if one of the things we need at a time like this is to give ourselves permission to say I don’t know about all of that, I’m just trying to be present to whoever and whatever is present. I think we sometimes just need permission to say I don’t know, but I’m here. Amen? And you know I’m interested in theology, I’m not against theology, I’m interested in that, but I think something…we get into trouble when we rush into the opinions without ever having been present. Here. Not somewhere else. Not where you oughtta be. Not how you oughtta be. Here. Now. This is the place where we can uniquely see something of the presence of God. Whoever and whatever God is.
…the universal experience of people encountering God when they become aware of His presence is being blessed”
-Brian McLaren, Naked Spirituality, Stage 1: Simplicity, February 3, 2011, CMU

Has McLaren jokingly reduced homosexuality and the inerrantist(8) position to nothing more than 2000 years of opinions and arguments? He insists we don’t need to know anything about God, but is quick to draw from the opinions of men rather than scripture and call the Lord God “whoever” and “whatever.” This is typical, as John MacArthur says, “an inerrantist perspective demands expository preaching, and a non-inerrantist perspective makes expository preaching unnecessary.” – Preaching the Book God Wrote (

McLaren also stated that when it comes to God he prefers the mystics, and thinks we are going to ‘rediscover’ that Paul was a mystic(9) and John was a mystic (this was at about 40 minutes into his talk), because in the gospel of John is mysticism.

Concluding his first talk, McLaren gave his audience permission to not know and not have everything figured out in this first early spiritual phase of life, and to say the truth is bigger than all of our opinions. He finished by guiding his listeners to say “here I am God, I want the real me to encounter the real you, I want the barefoot me to encounter the barefoot you, the naked me to encounter the naked you…a god that can never be contained in arguments and words…”

Is this the “new kind of Christianity,” where no one has the answers, and everybody is right in their own eyes?

Is McLaren simply echoing the theories of his mentor Ken Wilber?

“For the real intent of my writing is not to say, You must think in this way. The real intent is: here are some of the many important facets of this extraordinary Kosmos; have you thought about including them in your own worldview? My work is an attempt to make room in the Kosmos for all of the dimensions, levels, domains, waves, memes, modes, individuals, cultures, and so on ad infinitum. I have on major rule: everybody is right. More specifically, everybody—including me—has some important pieces of truth, and all of those pieces need to be honored, cherished, and included in a more gracious, spacious, and compassionate embrace… My critical writings have never attacked the central beliefs of any discipline, only the claims that the particular discipline has the only truth—and on those grounds I have often been harsh. But every approach, I honestly believe, is essentially true but partial, true but partial, true but partial. And on my own tombstone, I dearly hope that someday they will write: He was true but partial.” – Ken Wilber

It is true that God cannot be contained, and that as Christians we must never expect God to conform to our ways (instead, we surrender to be transformed and changed by His will and power). Sadly for McLaren, who chooses not believe it, God has told us in His (inerrant) Word that we can know Him.

“Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches:
But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.”
Jeremiah 9:23-24

It is obvious that McLaren’s ‘stage one’ of simplicity appears to be based on the flawed theories systems and complicated philosophies of this world.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Col. 2:8

“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:3

NEXT WEEK: McLaren’s Refreshing Winds at CMU – Part 2



(1) McLaren’s plenary sessions on Naked Spirituality can be listened to here:
Refreshing Winds 2011 audio

(2) Listen to mp3 here:
Thursday, February 3, 2011, 7:00pm
Plenary: Brian McLaren, Naked Spirituality, Stage 1: Simplicity

(3) See:
Fowler’s stages of faith development

Chart of James Fowler’s Stages of Faith

(4) Other contributors to Integral Life include:
-Brother Wayne Teasdale
(spokesperson for the practical power of spiritual realization and personal friend of the Dalai Lama)
Deepak Chopra
(mind-body medicine guru)
Thomas Keating
(founded Contemplative Outreach)
Ken Wilber
(philospher and founder of Integral Institute)
Marianne Williamson
(new age author/tacher)

(5) See:
Stages of Social Development
The Cultural Dynamics that Spark Violence, Spread Prosperity, and Shape Globalization
Don Edward Beck, Ph. D.

Spiral Dynamics quotes:

“It’s not that we need to form new organizations. It’s simply that we have to awaken to new ways of thinking. I believe it makes no sense to spend a lot of time attacking the current realities. It is time to create the new models that have in them the complexity that makes the older systems obsolete. And to the extent that we can do that, and do that quickly, I think we can provide what will be necessary for a major breakthrough for the future.” ~ Dr. Don Beck (

“Briefly, what I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, spiraling process, marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems as man’s existential problems change.” ~ CWG (

“Spiral Dynamics Integral is one of the first integral psychologies now available and, as presented by Don Beck, I give it my highest recommendation. It has profound implications for business, politics, education, and medicine, and it will give you the tools to begin applying these revolutionary ideas in your own field immediately. Don’t miss it!” ~ Ken Wilber, author-philosopher and president, Integral Institute (

Don Beck is a geopolitical commentator and founder of the global Center for Human Emergence, (CHE), where “We are creating an organization that will facilitate large-scale global change within a decade – something that has never been done before. What is required is a comprehensive, overarching, plantet-oriented vision.” -Dr. Don Beck (

*Don Beck is also an Integral Life Contributor (

(6) See:
Ken Wilber’s Five Stages

Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi)
[courtesy of Clare W. Graves, Don Beck, & Ken Wilber]
Explanation of Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi) courtesy of Clare Graves, Don Beck, & Ken WIlber. For more in-depth information please visit the website at:

(7) While McLaren calls God whoever and whatever, he has known seven Jesus’s, “the sixth Jesus is the Anabaptist Jesus who saves through community building. He saves by calling together disciples in order to carry out his teachings.” –The Seven Jesuses I Have Known

Also see Brian McLaren’s Seven Jesuses

[“He has chosen the “Jesus” he prefers from various traditions and now chooses the aspects of Christianity he will follow from various versions of Christianity. The result is the type of Christianity he feels good about. Rarely does he do any exegetical work from the Scriptures to validate the aspects of “orthodoxy” he chooses to embrace. The criterion, as we shall see, is what fits into his understanding of the kingdom of God emerging in the process of planetary salvation.”
Emergent Delusion – A Critique of Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy by Bob DeWaay]

(8) See:
Do Inerrantists elevate the Bible to the level of idolatry?
Everyone is an Inerrantist

(9) Pastor DeBruyn examines the question: “Was Paul a Mystic?” He provides a helpful explanation of the key elements of the emerging mysticism that is permeating the evangelical world. His talk is, in part, based on his 4-part Herescope series that ran in May 2008. See here:

Was Paul A Mystic? Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


The Mennonites, Brian McLaren and the Neopagan Gospel Unite


MB Herald calls A New Kind of Christianity “a book on freedom”

*Emerging church leader Rob Bell, who has recently shown his universalistic colors, also refers to the works of Graves, Beck and Wilber. See HERE.