He has often been named one of the most influential Christian leaders in America and was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America in 2005. McLaren was also the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Maryland, which he left in 2006 to pursue writing and speaking full-time.
McLaren has been active in networking and mentoring church planters and pastors since the mid-1980s, and has assisted in the development of several new churches. In spite of the intense criticism leveled at McLaren by some Evangelical leaders, he remains a popular speaker for campus groups and retreats as well as a frequent guest lecturer at seminaries and conferences, nationally and internationally. His public speaking covers a broad range of topics including postmodernism, biblical studies, evangelism, apologetics, leadership, global mission, church growth, church planting, art and music, pastoral survival and burnout, inter-religious dialogue, ecology, and social justice.
McLaren is on the international steering team and board of directors for Emergent Village; a growing, generative friendship among missional Christian leaders, and serves as a board member for Sojourners and Orientacion Cristiana. He formerly served as board chair of International Teams, an innovative mission organization with 15 nationally registered members including the United States office based in Chicago, and has served on several other boards, including The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, and Off The Map.
McLaren is married and has four children. He has traveled extensively in Europe, Latin America, and Africa, and his personal interests include ecology, fishing, hiking, kayaking, camping, songwriting, music, art, and literature. In September 2012, McLaren led a gay marriage commitment ceremony for his son Trevor and partner Owen Ryan at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a ceremony officiated by a Universal Life minister.
Many of the books that McLaren has written, including the "A New Kind of Christian" trilogy, deal with Christianity in the context of the cultural shift towards postmodernism. McLaren believes this theology enables him to approach faith from what he considers a more Jewish perspective which allows faith to exist without objective, propositional truth to believe. He has also challenged traditional evangelicals' emphasis on individual salvation, end-times theology and the prosperity gospel. He also creates an antithesis between personal trust in God and belief in his propositions:
"I believe people are saved not by objective truth, but by Jesus. Their faith isn’t in their knowledge, but in God." – Brian McLaren
Applying this epistemology to his theology, McLaren suggests on pp. 80–81 of More Ready Than You Realize that new Christian converts should remain within their specific contexts.
I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts … rather than resolving the paradox via pronouncements on the eternal destiny of people more convinced by or loyal to other religions than ours, we simply move on … To help Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and everyone else experience life to the full in the way of Jesus (while learning it better myself), I would gladly become one of them (whoever they are), to whatever degree I can, to embrace them, to join them, to enter into their world without judgment but with saving love as mine has been entered by the Lord (A Generous Orthodoxy, 260, 262, 264).
Often McLaren's postmodern approach to hermeneutics and Biblical understanding prompts him to take a less traditional approach towards issues considered controversial by fundamentalists, such as homosexuality. McLaren encourages what he calls a humble approach to controversial issues to enable dialog with others in a productive way.
"Even if we are convinced that all homosexual behavior is always sinful, we still want to treat gay and lesbian people with more dignity, gentleness, and respect than our colleagues do. If we think that there may actually be a legitimate context for some homosexual relationships, we know that the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered, and the pastoral ramifications are staggeringly complex. We aren't sure if or where lines are to be drawn, nor do we know how to enforce with fairness whatever lines are drawn."
In January 2006, McLaren expressed uncertainty about what the Christian view on homosexuality should be. He suggested a five-year moratorium on the issue.
McLaren favors what he calls a "generous" approach to biblical hermeneutics, claiming that the foundational and objective hermeneutics of Evangelicals leads them to political conservatism. McLaren has been an outspoken advocate of issues such as social justice and peace.
Though McLaren is opposed to what he asserts are oppressive, Evangelical, literalist hermeneutics, his own hermeneutic is often called into question by conservative Christians. Often McLaren's own view on interpreting the Bible seems to call for others to rethink the whole process of interpretation. In his book, A New Kind of Christian, McLaren writes (via his main character Neo),
"Our interpretations reveal less about God or the Bible than they do about ourselves. They reveal what we want to defend, what we want to attack, what we want to ignore, what we're unwilling to question..." (A New Kind of Christian, 50)
In 2011 McLaren defended Rob Bell's controversial book Love Wins against critiques from figures such as Albert Mohler, who argued that Bell advocated universalism. Like Bell, McLaren has been branded a universalist by some of his critics, a charge which McLaren denies. Instead he argues for what he calls a more humble, inclusivist approach to the issue.
McLaren has also questioned the penal substitution interpretation of the atonement and the importance some conservatives place on the doctrine.
The Church on the Other Side (Zondervan, 1998)
Finding Faith (Zondervan, 1999)
A New Kind of Christian (Jossey-Bass, 2001)
More Ready Than You Realize: Evangelism as Dance in the Postmodern Matrix (Zondervan, 2002)
A Is for Abductive (Zondervan, 2002)
Adventures in Missing the Point (Emergent/YS, 2003, co-written with Tony Campolo)