Monday, December 27, 2010

A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren

*originally posted on February 19, 2010

Brian McLaren has done it again.

When I read A New Kind of Christian trilogy several years ago, I was in the midst of a spiritual and emotional depression. I was, in McLaren’s words, “between something real and something wrong.” I had begun to question a lot of what I had been taught, a lot of what I preached, a lot of what gave me identity as a Christian and as a pastor. And I knew that if I expressed my questions and doubts, it would cost me my job. A New Kind of Christian gave me the courage to step out and journey onto some terra nova, leading eventually to the launching of Vintage Fellowship, the emergent faith community I have the inexpressible privilege of shepherding.

For me, Brian McLaren’s books are like a turn-by-turn GPS, always one step ahead of me, guiding the way. In the same way that A New Kind of Christian charted the path I would journey, so now, I believe A New Kind of Christianity will chart the path that Vintage Fellowship is journeying.

A New Kind of Christianity has framed the ongoing discussion our faith community is having. It’s like Brian has been having coffee with us. He asks 10 essential questions:
-What is the overarching storyline of the Bible?
-How should the Bible be understood?
-Is God Violent?
-Who is Jesus and why is he important?
-What is the gospel?
-What do we do about the church?
-Can we find a way to address human sexuality?
-Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
-How should the followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
-How can we translate our quest into action?

McLaren engages each question thoughtfully, opening up a space for discussion, dissent, and development. I am sure my fundamentalist friends will not be OK with his questions, let alone his proposed answers. But I am no longer a fundamentalist, and I love the space to explore and wonder. Many times throughout the book, I felt affirmed, reading a perspective on a question that I shared. Many more times, I was challenged to look at a question from a new perspective. And what a blessing that space is.

As tremendously important as McLaren’s framing of the quest for a new kind of Christianity is, maybe his most important contribution to the discussion is his gracious and gentle manner. He describes some of the reaction his teaching has engendered. And he responds to some of his critics. He could have reason to come on strongly, defensively, and argumentatively. He never does. He maintains the kind of irenic spirit that I think makes God proud. I hope that I can emulate it.

Constantly searching for metaphors to help map the territory ahead, McLaren describes the maturation process of humanity in general and religious thought in particular in terms of the colors of the spectrum. As I read his description of the movement from red to yellow through green and blue to violet, it was as if I was reading my own story. In short, reading A New Kind of Christian and launching Vintage Fellowship was my journey into the indigo shade of honesty. But I am ready to move beyond honesty to peace. I am ready to continue my quest. I am not confident of much, but I am confident of this: A New Kind of Christianity will be a map I return to again and again as I seek to lead myself, my family, and my church into the violet horizon of a hopeful, peaceful future.

Thanks, Brian, for doing it again.


Gerbmom said...

Thank you Robb, for this review. For many reasons, it was exactly what I needed to read today!

Laurie said...

Robb, thanks for introducing me to Brian. I just finished Generous Orthodoxy, and much like you, I feel as if he's expressing exactly what I've been thinking and feeling for years but didn't know how to express. I especially love the chapter on charismatic/contemplative since I knew that somehow my experiences in the crazy charismatic world and the quiet of Taize were somehow linked. He tells me why. I've just ordered more of his books, and I'm excited. Would love to chat with you about why others I respect like Piper are so concerned about McLaren. Alas, we need to make space for a long Skype conversation some time.