Brian McLaren, among the brightest and most significant Christian thinkers of our age, is on a mission to save Christianity from itself. With impressive erudition, genuine humility, and a deep love for Christ and the church, McLaren dares to ask questions that contemporary believers need to confront. Questions, however, are quite threatening to traditionalists who are confident that they already have the answers, thank you very much.
Many people the world over have found in McLaren a kindred spirit and a source of hope in a time when it’s easy to give up on the Christianity they have known. The combination of his growing popularity and challenging questions brings to McClaren an expected double dose of criticism from proponents of a more institutional view. A case in point: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler was so disturbed by McLaren’s most recent book (A New Kind of Christianity) that he devoted a chapel service to a panel discussion designed to debunk McLaren’s work and warn students against the sort of ideas the popular author might lead them to think.
In A New Kind of Christianity, McLaren addresses ten questions that are crucial to the faith, questions he has heard time and again in conversations around the world. It is an important book that deserves careful reading and careful thought.
I haven’t finished the book, but I have completed sections dealing with issues of the biblical narrative and biblical authority, the sort of things that fundamentalist Christians will understandably find most challenging.
A taste to whet your appetite: in discussing biblical authority, McLaren suggests that the Bible should not be understood as a legal constitution designed as binding law to be interpreted and enforced by religious authorities, but as a community library that “preserves, presents, and inspires an ongoing vigorous conversation with and about God, a living and vital civil argument into which we are all invited and through which God is revealed” (p. 83).
The difference in perspective leads to radically different approaches to reading (or hearing) the biblical story: whether as a rule book or as a conversation about (and with) the divine. Here’s the way McLaren expresses his hope for the project: “that this approach will not try to put us under the text, as conservatives tend to do, or lift us over it, as liberals often seem to do. Instead, I hope it will try to put is in the text — in the conversation, in the story, in the current and flow, in the predicament, in the Spirit, in the community of people who keep bumping into the living God in the midst of their experiences of loving God, betraying God, losing God, and being found again by God” (pp. 96-97).
McLaren has much to offer for those who dare to think new thoughts and explore the future of the faith. It takes some effort to consider an approach as topsy-turvy to tradition as the one McLaren approaches, but it is well worth the work.