Brian McLaren’s ‘Life after Doom’ invites us to think in fresh ways about the world we are giving to our children


This is my dream, and perhaps it is your dream, and our dream, together: that in this time of turbulence when worlds are falling apart, all of us with willing hearts can come together—together with one another, poor and rich, whatever our race or gender, wherever we live, whatever our religion or education. I dream that some of us, maybe even enough of us, will come together not only in a circle of shared humanity, but in a sphere as big as the whole Earth, to rediscover ourselves as Earth’s multi-colored, multi-cultured children, members of Team Earth.”

From Brian McLaren’s new Life after Doom:
Wisdom and Courage for a World Falling Apart


This rich array of resources includes wisdom from Native Americans—and tips for families with children

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Why do so many of us keep reading Brian McLaren, year after year and book after book?

Because of the pastoral heart that beats within the pages of nearly all of his volumes—both prophetically preaching the truth of the tragedies we have inflicted on each other in many ways—and always overlaying that with a hopeful vision of the road ahead of us, if we heed his advice. Book after book, his voice echoes these two related themes—first, calling for an honest assessment of our crises and, then, describing a faithful way to continue living each day of our lives with the promise that what we choose to do really does matter in our troubled world.

And, yes, his newest book echoes with familiar McLaren lessons. For example: If you are a McLaren reader, you might recall his eloquent 2015 book, We Make the Road by WalkingWell, because Brian’s continuing series of books read like extended letters to dear friends—in this latest book, he reminds us of that 2015 lesson in the final chapter of this new book, which is titled We Make the Way by Walking.

Buying and reading one of McLaren’s books is an authentic invitation to become a friend in an ongoing journey.

But, wait: Is that just an exaggerated metaphor?

No, this is the way McLaren has engaged countless readers around the world for decades. To get a feel for his good-humored, welcoming relationship with readers, visit Brian’s blog online—which at the time this article was published starts with a note to friends in England about an upcoming visit in August. And, just before that, he posted a video-playlist of music to help readers appreciate his new book featuring musicians he enjoys from Michael Franti to his dear friend, the late Fran McKendree.

At our own publishing house, we’ve been saying since our founding in 2007 that “a book is a community between two covers—entering the world to connect with that real community manifested around the world.” (And for another perspective on that power of authors and their books, read Laura deJong’s column in our Front Edge Publishing website this week. Our entire community of authors tries to live by this idea.)

And—that’s a vision we share with Brian McLaren and that’s why I have been honored to talk with him many times over the years to share his ongoing story with our readers.

‘I’m the kind of Christian who …’

In fact, this is the 20th anniversary of my first conversation with McLaren—in my role, back then, as a journalist covering religious and cultural diversity for The Detroit Free Press.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

How did we meet?

An alert editor at The Free Press plopped a new book on my desk in 2004 and told me: “As our religion editor, you’ve pretty much gotta interview a guy who titles his new book: ‘A Generous Orthodoxy—Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentalist/calvinist + anabaptist/anglican + methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished CHRISTIAN.’ This Brian McLaren seems to be the hottest new thing from the guys up in Grand Rapids at Zondervan—so the story’s got a Michigan hook to it. So, read the book. Then, call the man.”

I took the assignment, of course.

If you’re not familiar with McLaren’s big breakthrough book on the national publishing circuit—those 32 words, 15 plus signs and six slashes did, indeed, form the title of his book. Then, sitting just above all those words on the cover of his book was Brian’s bespectacled face with a sort of Mona Lisa smile. It was obvious from that book onward that this guy has a hopeful sense of humor. So, first as a journalist for major newspapers—then later as the editor of this online magazine—I have made it a point to check in with him once or twice each year for an interview to highlight whatever his newest book might be.

My last major interview with McLaren was about his 2022 book, exploring the many reasons that organized religion seems toxic to a growing number of Americans. He called that book Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned. 

So, given the trajectory of his writing, in my interview this week about Life after Doom, I asked McLaren a question that caused him to chuckle, at first.

I asked, “So, how do you identify yourself today when people ask you to give your religious affiliation?”

After chuckling at my question, he pondered a while before responding: “I’ve been around long enough that I don’t get asked that question too often anymore. But—I still identify as a committed Christian. Then, if people ask what I mean by that I say, ‘I’m the kind of Christian who believes that the better Christian I am—the more I’ll love my Muslim and atheist and Jewish and Hindu neighbors as myself.’ ”

So, that’s the first thing you need to know about this new book: Yes, it’s written by one of the nation’s most influential Christian authors—and the overall thinking is shaped by McLaren’s deep faith—but this also is a book for “everyone” as he argues in the Introduction:

“Life after Doom is for everyone who has reached a point where not facing their unpeaceful, uneasy, unwanted feelings about the future has become more draining than facing them. It’s for anyone who understands that we’ve entered a dangerous time and we need to prepare ourselves to face that danger with wisdom, courage, character and compassion.”

If that sounds like you—then I can assure you this will be welcome reading!

But, if you’re still undecided about putting this on your reading list, let me share a few things I really like about this book.

Starting with compassion

McLaren models that compassion he’s seeking, as an author, by doing something I can’t recall another author doing in such a timely book. He actually tells readers, before Chapter 1, that if the early portion of the book (in which he explains the nature of the global crises we face) is too depressing to read right away—skip ahead into the middle of his book and start with the more hopeful chapters. He writes, those early chapters “are really important, but for some readers, going to the end and then coming back to the middle may make more sense.”

In our interview, McLaren credited his longtime friend, the late author, scholar and activist Michael Dowd with encouraging this kind of gracious humor. “Starting with Generous Orthodoxy, I remember talking with Michael about the power of humor—and sometimes gallows humor—to pull us through the tough times,” McLaren said. Over many years, his friendship with Dowd—who features prominently in this new book—was grounded in a compassionate approach to the people reading and listening to their messages.

This is a good illustration of how Brian is not alone in this kind of writing. He’s part of a real community in our world. For example, if you are aware of Michael Dowd’s considerable contribution to this movement that Dowd liked to call “post-Doom,” then you also might want to get Ken Whitt’s eloquent book for parents, grandparents and church leaders, God Is Just Love: Building Spiritual Resilience and Sustainable Communities for the Sake of Our Children and CreationWhitt also is a part of Dowd’s ongoing post-Doom network of writers, educators and religious activists—a fitting legacy to Dowd’s remarkable career.

In our interview, McLaren told me, “Michael was a person who saw the natural world as having deep meaning and depth and sacredness—and he spoke about that so boldly and calmly that I feel he was giving me a great gift in sharing the way he had explored that territory.”

Considering Native American wisdom

McLaren’s community of friends also includes a number of leaders in the emerging wave of Native American voices—especially Steven Charleston (see my October ReadTheSpirit interview with Charleston about his book We Survived the End of the World). The truth is that indigenous people around the world have experienced centuries of near-extinction and yet many of those communities survive and some of them are thriving. McLaren’s humble recommendation to listen to Native voices is a passion I share as well as a journalist.

“I think that Native American perspectives absolutely have to be a part of the path ahead for us,” McLaren said in our interview. “At this point, it’s almost too late to keep hoping that any of the systems that brought us to this point will somehow provide solutions. We need to consider value systems that predate colonialism and industrialism and empire.”

Talking to our children

McLaren and his wife have four adult children and five grandchildren, the oldest of whom is 14. As a grandparent myself, I appreciate the appendix to this book in which Brian suggests ways to talk with young people about the crises we are facing. Those are very challenging conversations, in many cases, even with preschool kids—believe me, I know as a grandparent. McLaren’s suggestions include a model letter from a grandfather to the next generations.

We all should write such letters, shouldn’t we?

When I told McLaren how much I appreciated his resource sections at the end of the book, he said, “It makes me happy to hear that you plan to highlight that—because I worked hard on those sections. I use an image in the beginning of the book about how what’s happening is hitting us like a tornado going through people’s nervous systems. There are a lot of ways to react to such a tornado that are not helpful, so I wanted to pack as many sources of help into this book as I could.”

Acknowledging our biases

If you’re familiar with McLaren’s writing, you know that he’s no arm-twisting salesman trying to convince readers to adopt his plan for meeting these crises. Yes, he does encourage readers to develop their own plans and he does offer a few suggestions. But, this book is not some kind of a sales pitch for Brian McLaren’s 10 Tips for Avoiding the Apocalypse. In fact, at the close of his book are seven pages titled “A Short List of Biases”—and those pages alone are worth the price of this book.

This is a terrific book for small-group discussion and, yes, McLaren includes tips for organizing such groups, including how to divide up the chapters of this book—depending on how many weeks you’re thinking of devoting to this theme.

As we closed our interview, I asked McLaren how he hopes this new book might change readers.

“I hope people will accept the reality that our future is very uncertain,” he said. “I present four scenarios in the book—and we can’t know right now which of those scenarios we’ll end up in. But what we can do is decide how we are going to show up in whatever scenario does unfold.

“Then, in just about every area of my life, I feel children should be so high on our list of priorities that their wellbeing and their future should outweigh our own short-term concerns and profits. So, I’m constantly trying to envision what it’s like to come of age in this kind of world that our children are inheriting. As a Christian who writes and speaks, I’m often asked by parents, ‘What should I teach my children?’ And, what I try to tell them is: I want to give our children something of value, but I don’t want to give them the same thing I was given years ago. I think that together, we need to find fresh ways of thinking about everything—and sharing that with our children.”

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Comments

  1. Eileen Ray says

    I’ve also read the book.
    I’ve been almost paralyzed by the knowledge of what we might be leaving to our grandchildren.
    This book has helped get beyond that mode: living thoughtfully, with care and compassion.
    When a grandson told me he wanted to visit my house because I have a garden I realized I might have started him on the road to living gently with the earth. Now I’m trying to find ways to help others also live gently with the planet.