Brian McLaren’s New Kind of Whole Foods Store: A Parable

Note: Tomorrow (Thursday, March 10, 2010), Lord willing, it will be my privilege to participate in a panel discussion at SBTS chapel moderated by Dr. Mohler with my esteemed colleagues, Drs. Ware, Wellum, and Wills. We will be discussing Brian McLaren’s book, A New Kind of Christianity. I am posting this parable in the hopes that many of you will either show up for or tune into chapel, or later watch or listen to the recording.


Brian McLaren decided to open his own Whole Foods store. He started small, and the business grew. After a struggle through the early years, he had his own storefront with the sign in the parking lot and everything: Whole Foods.

More and more, though, people complained about the high prices, and they were a little disappointed that while the food was supposed to be healthy, it just didn’t taste as good as what they were used to eating. McLaren wrestled with the problems of price, access, taste, and image, and after much turmoil he began to move toward a solution that he was sure would address the issues.

The change didn’t happen all at once, and McLaren didn’t announce what he had decided to do. In fact, there are some indications that this was, we might say, an organic development, a slow transformation. Once it had happened, though, the results are clear for all to see.

Though the sign out front still says Whole Foods, things are very different within. Instead of all that expensive, healthy, tasteless food, inside you can buy what looks and tastes just like fast food burgers and fries. In fact, Brian’s stuff is just like McDonald’s! And now the shelves of the store are stocked with things that people really want to eat, things that people can afford, things that are easier for McLaren to acquire and market, and things that taste just like what we used to eat when we didn’t bother about health food at all. Perfect! Affordable prices and food that tastes great—healthy to boot.

Brian even lets people smoke in his Whole Foods store. Here is a new kind of Whole Foods store we can love. Can you imagine? Here is a place where you can smoke and not feel guilty about needing a nicotine fix, a place you don’t have to worry about having an expensive, destructive addiction.

Brian understands and teaches that people are born with a proclivity to addiction. Some people are hard wired to love cigarettes, and those people who are against smoking just weren’t born with the same kinds of inclinations.

Brian helps people see that those who are against smoking are just like the racists who argued for slavery and segregation. Brian knows that the Civil Rights issue of our time is the right to smoke in peace. The Whole Foods way of life isn’t against smoking either, once you learn how to interpret it correctly—the way Brian does. Lots of people think you can’t be healthy and smoke, but they’re just narrow. And those anti-smoking people are so negative and mean about what is or isn’t healthy. They really need to learn how to love people. Brian teaches love, especially for people who smoke. People who don’t smoke can be loved, too, as long as they confess that smoking is healthy, natural, normal, and ought to be legal everywhere. Some of them still have a backwards tendency that manifests itself when they try to keep people from giving cigarettes to their kids, but Brian is really good about helping us all look the other way and pretend we don’t see that kind of thing.

There is only one problem: the Whole Foods people aren’t happy. They keep protesting that Whole Foods stores are about organic, healthy food, not Big Macs, Shakes, and lots of grease on the Tater Tots.

Our guru Brian is puzzled. Here he is a well meaning guy who never intended to start any controversy, and these people keep trying to argue with him. These narrow Whole Foods people keep trying to tell him that he no longer represents them and that they want him to change the sign out front, and all he is trying to do is help people.

What, is only one kind of Whole Foods store permitted? Why are they trying to control everything? Brian explains that they are driven by fear of his success, fear of losing their grip on the Whole Foods franchise, and fear of being shown wrong.

So Brian took action. He started to write books. He went on speaking tours. He posted lots of articles and mp3’s and videos on the web. And he is always singing the same song:

“I’m on a quest,” he says, and everyone knows how exciting quests are. Brian describes how people who had given up on Whole Foods come to his Whole Foods store and they really like it. They tell him this is the kind of Whole Foods store they can stomach. This is the kind of Whole Foods store they can afford. This is the kind of Whole Foods store that excites their taste buds and makes them feel good about eating healthy again.

Then Brian really helps us to understand the whole problem with Whole Foods. The Whole Foods people have totally misinterpreted what healthy food is. They have come up with what they claim is a scientific way of identifying which foods are good for the body, but their whole way of identifying healthy food is stuck in a rationalistic Greco-Roman way of viewing the world that has nothing to do with nutrition and human needs.

In addition to that, they evaluate food the same way they would treat a science experiment in a Petri dish, when they should really evaluate food the same way a wine connoisseur describes fine wine. Anyone can see that this rationalistic Petri dish approach to health food is totally mistaken. Besides, Brian’s new kind of Whole Foods store has food that tastes better, is affordable, and according to him it is even more nutritious.

To understand why the Whole Foods people are against smoking, you have to understand their so-called “scientific” Greco-Roman rationalistic way of defining health and their Petri dish approach to describing how things affect people. But once we set aside this whole Greco-Roman Petri dishism, we can see that smoking is actually healthy. And besides, we all know how uptight and unhealthy the Greco-Roman Petri dish people are. Look at all the wars they’ve started.

Lots of us are on a quest for a new kind of Whole Foods store, following Brian’s lead. You’ll hear the Whole Foods people warn you that Brian is really selling fast food, but don’t let those narrow, bigoted people who have caused all the problems of price, image, and tasteless food rob you of the joy of eating healthy food that tastes great.

Brian has lovingly warned us that those Whole Foods people are really dangerous. Did you know that they have actually created all kinds of insecurities and engendered so many inferiority complexes in the minds of those who can’t afford their food? They make people think that if they don’t eat the “Whole Foods” way they’re being unhealthy. They are bullies who push lies and use intimidation. Those Whole Foods people are going to insist that you do things their way, but the reality is that they are to blame for all the socio-economic inequity we see in the world around us today. They’re as bad as terrorists. In fact, they’re just like Islamo-fascist-fundamentalist-terrorists when it comes to food. If their way of defining healthy food persists people will keep right on killing each other and none of us will ever be healthy. Are you against terrorism and racism? Then you are against the Whole Foods people. Why don’t you sign up to join Brian’s quest?

Brian McLaren is a genius. Who could have guessed there would be a new kind of Whole Foods store where you can eat whatever you want? Who would have dreamed that you can really eat Whole Foods stuff that tastes just like McDonald’s and is just as cheap? Who else but Brian could have explained to us that the Whole Foods people have duped us about what healthy food was to begin with? Who else but Brian could have defended us against those nasty Whole Foods people who want to control the world and define everything their own way? Who else but Brian could have stood up to all those war-mongers and racist terrorists who are against smoking?

Thanks to Brian McLaren, a new kind of Whole Foods store is possible. Low prices, plenty of tasty fried food, and guilt free gravy. Now if we can just make those Whole Foods people go away. They have been in charge for so long that it’s still hard for us to enjoy our gravy guilt free. Brian warns us that it is easy to hate them, but he teaches that we have evolved beyond their paradigms so we can look down on them from a smug and lofty height. That helps, but Brian acknowledges that there will still be times when we hate them and all their rationalistic Greco-Roman Petri dish explanations of what is healthy and what isn’t.

What we face now is the problem of all the places that still need a new kind of Whole Foods store. There are so few of them. I guess since there isn’t a new kind of Whole Foods store in my town, or my parents’ town, or most other places I go, I’ll just have to keep eating at McDonald’s.

If I ever visit Brian’s town, I’ll go to his new kind of Whole Foods store, but I’m not stepping foot in any other kind because they are too expensive and the food tastes terrible and no one wants to eat what they sell. In addition, those Whole Foods people think they alone know what it means to be healthy, they don’t let anyone smoke, and they’re so mean to my hero Brian. The world would be so much better without them and their whole approach to Whole Foods.

Join the Conversation


  1. Interesting and funny. I did notice the water bottle you always carry around, but I never had you pegged as a whole foods guy! I’m going to put forward my best effort to be there. That means trying to get all my Greek and Hebrew work done before chapel tomorrow.

  2. Brilliant! Clever and razor sharp… I was struck by the insight and the hilarity of it all. Very good and very helpful. Thank you for taking the time to do this.

  3. Excellent my friend! But not quite the “sword fighting and jousting games of old”! 🙂

  4. I thought it was only smoking cigarettes that was wrong. Your born liking cigarettes, you just can’t smoke them. You can buy them and keep them in your pocket and fight for smokers rights, maybe even walk in a smokers parade just don’t inhale. I think I’m picking up what your laying down. Great work. Houston misses you.

  5. This is a delightful parable. At first, I thought it was just a long-winded way of saying, “McLaren is bad for you, we are good for you.” But then I realized that the essay itself is a performance of the things that McLaren criticizes.

    From the Platonic ideal of the healthy food versus the base junk food, to the lack of mercy and overabundance of judgment, to describing the church as a national corporate franchise, to the obsession with homosexuality, and surely many other embodiments I’m missing, this essay hits all of the main points that McLaren criticizes. It shows that Dr. Hamilton really understands McLaren’s criticisms and makes me want to hear the panel discussion. Well done!

  6. The irony here is that your analogy would work just as well if you change “McLaren” to “Luther”. After all, the Roman Catholic Church was the original Whole Foods store.

    The truth is, you’ve got the whole thing backwards. The Southern Baptist Whole Foods store sells cigarettes and greasy southern-fried foods but insists that they are healthy. They lash out against anyone who says otherwise, and employees who suggest customers try a few green vegetables now and then are fired on the spot. They talk about the “priesthood of the consumer”, yet the only way to perpetuate their falsehoods is to maintain a strict control over what their customers eat. If someone tried a carrot, they might enjoy it, feel better, and start to realize that they are being lied to. Even worse is the way in which many of the employees and customers try to take on the appearance of real health food consumers, packing their greasy fries in recycled packaging, pulling tye died t-shirts over their immense bellies, to make themselves feel ‘hip’, while all the time on the inside their arteries are clogged

  7. Matt, your statement may have been perfectly valid in 1974….look around reformation’s here, Church-lite (taste great less filling)will not stand much longer.

  8. Jim,
    This was brilliant! Very insightful and funny–but sad in the way McLaren has duped so many…

    I enjoyed your sermon so much last week when you were in H-Town. Miss you and your wonderful family.

    mike d.

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