I am blogging through A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren. McLaren is noted for his dissatisfaction with evangelicalism, and his new book raises “ten questions that are transforming the faith.” He writes, “It’s time for a new quest, launched by new questions, a quest across denominations and around the world, a quest for new ways to believe and new ways to serve faithfully in the way of Jesus, a quest for a new kind of Christian faith.” In the second chapter, he insists that he is not offering answers to these questions, but responses that invite counter-responses. Let the conversation begin! I will offer summaries of each question and response, along with my counter-responses.
If you’re unfamiliar with Brian McLaren, he has been a fairly prolific author during the 21st century—one who has stirred up plenty of controversy in evangelical circles. Along with Rob Bell, he is the author I am asked about most often. Personally, I feel that he is criticized more than he is understood. Most people who ask me about him know little about his thought other than that it is bad. That’s not really fair to Brian.
On the other hand, I have heard that McLaren takes his ideas to a new level in his latest book. To this point, he has offered more questions than answers, and the answers he has offered have been frustratingly vague. I am hoping that A New Kind of Christianity clarifies his faith, and I am blogging through the book because I anticipate his ideas spreading throughout evangelicalism.
The book is divided into chapters based on ten questions and answers:
- The narrative question: What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
- The authority question: How should the Bible be understood?
- The God question: Is God violent?
- The Jesus question: Who is Jesus and why is he important?
- The gospel question: What is the gospel?
- The church question: What do we do about the church?
- The sex question: Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
- The future question: Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
- The pluralism question: How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
- The what-do-we-do-now question: How can we translate our quest into action?
I first came across McLaren’s writings in 2005, while I was living in Dallas. I thoroughly enjoyed A New Kind of Christian (2001) and was prompted to read A Generous Orthodoxy (2004). Since then I’ve read a number of his books, the most significant being The Secret Message of Jesus (2006), Everything Must Change (2007), and Finding Our Way Again (2008).
I find McLaren’s writings to be helpful but dissatisfying. They are helpful in the sense that he asks good questions and he has a knack for pointing out what is wrong with contemporary Christianity. They are dissatisfying in that, despite claiming to be “new,” his answers are largely rehashes of ideas that have been tried and found wanting. He seems to forget that evangelicalism arose to prominence because people found the 20th century liberal movement unfruitful. Sometimes it seems like he is advocating we push that button again, only harder, and expect to get different results this time. Then again, that shouldn’t be surprising—it’s far easier to agree with someone that something is wrong than agree with them how to fix it (see the now moot Nationalized Health Care Debate, The).
I’m thankful for guys like Brian McLaren. We shouldn’t be afraid to analyze current goings-on in evangelicalism or ask hard questions. I haven’t read anything written by him that would qualify as “heresy,” even if I have read things that would qualify as “non-evangelical.” I am interested in seeing where he takes the conversation next.