A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith
Brian McLaren, Hodder
How did this man get such theological erudition having never attended a seminary class?
Brian McLaren, Richard Rohr and Marcus Borg comprise the three popular (populist?) “Christian amigos” who speak together at “Big Tent” meetings around the US.
They are helping more than anyone else (with the possible addition of Bishop Tom Wright) define for English-speakers what “Progressive Christianity” is all about. McLaren — with his mate Tony Campolo — helps emergent/missional Jesus-followers figure out how to live and what to believe (in that order).
A quick Google search will reveal the hornet’s nest these people have stirred up among conservative/Reformed evangelicals and fundamentalists. (Brian: “How did a mild-mannered guy like me get into so much trouble?” One clue: “About 15 years ago I stopped knowing a lot of what I previously knew.”)
His “friend and chronicler” Scot McKnight, who also has a high-profile ministry to a similar demographic — young literate evangelicals who love Jesus but have problems with his “retail outlets” — in a Christianity Today review surprisingly gives McLaren’s book only two stars out of five.
So what’s Brian McLaren on about? Two things basically:
1. The main branches of the Christian Church have made part of God’s truth the whole truth (see A Generous Orthodoxy).
2. In this book, he argues that a “Greco-Roman” paradigm has contaminated our reading of the Bible — viewing it as a “constitution”, rather than as “an inspired, cultural library” — and squashed Christian theology into creeds with no room for “The Lord [having] yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word”.
Here are Brian’s Ten Questions to which I’ve added [teasers from each chapter] to whet your appetite:
1. The Narrative Question: What is the shape — or storyline or plotline — of the biblical narrative? [Why did Jesus’ Hebrew scriptures have nothing to say about original sin, total depravity, the “fall” or eternal conscious torment in hell?]
2. The Authority Question: What does it mean to say the Bible has authority? How has the Bible’s authority been misused in the past? [How did “Bible-believing” Christians use the Bible to justify such horrors as anti-Semitism, the Inquisition, homophobia, racism and apartheid?]
3. The God Question: Is God violent? How do we deal with the passages in the Bible where God sanctions mass slaughter? [“We can discern God’s character in a mature way only from the vantage-point of the end of the story, seen in the light of the story of Jesus.”]
4. The Jesus Question: Who is Jesus and why is he so important? Why do Christians present such different visions or versions of Jesus? [Jesus said, “God is seeking worshippers who come not to the correct mountain, but with the correct spirit.”]
5. The Gospel Question: What is the core message of the Christian faith? Is it exclusively about heaven and hell after death, or primarily about justice, peace, and joy on earth? Is the gospel good news for a few, or for all people? [“Let’s read Paul in the light of Jesus, instead of reading Jesus in the light of Paul.”]
6. The Church Question: What do we do about the church? How will we cope with the many changes we face? [The Church’s main question: how can we become “a school of love, which means a school of listening, dialogue, appreciative enquiry, pre-emptive peace-making, non-violence, advocacy, generosity and personal and social transformation?”]
7. The Sex Question: Why has homosexuality become such a divisive issue? How can we engage with sexual orientation – and many other issues of human sexuality – without continuing to fight angrily and divide bitterly? Can we move beyond paralysing polarisation to constructive dialogue? [“Discussions about homosexuality have been hijacked by ‘fundasexuality’.”]
8. The Future Question: What is our vision of the future? The world getting worse and worse until God destroys and replaces it? Are there fresh and better options for Christian eschatology? [“Participatory eschatology” — working for God’s kingdom/justice — is very different from pessimistic determinism (for example, pre-millennialism) or triumphalist determinisms (for example, post-millennialism)].
9. The Pluralism Question: How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions? Is Jesus the only way — and the only way to what? [“Christianity has a persistent problem with pluralism not because of Jesus or his Jewish roots, but because of its Greco-Roman captivity.”]
10. The What-Do-We-Do-Now Question: How can we open these questions without creating needless controversy and division? How can we move forward in our quest without being intimidated by the resistance that will no doubt arise? What attitudes and understandings can help us move forward in a creative, loving way? [“In ten years’ time … some of today’s dominating paradigms will be studied in theological history books and preserved only in small defensive enclaves. They will no longer be normative, and some of the ideas we now pay a price to hold will be the new norm.”]
Fun! I’m currently leading two discussion groups of questioning Christians who are studying this book.
Believe me, Brian’s asking the right questions for these people and (in my humble opinion!) giving us some useful guidelines for our missional and theological journey into the 21st century.
The Rev. Dr Rowland Croucher
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