Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Brian McLaren, 'A New Kind of Christian'

The past 3 months or so have been pivotal in my life and in my relationship with Christ. Numerous stretching conversations and authors who I now consider friends have helped to open up my eyes to worlds of new possibilities in understanding and walking with God. I have started to see that the way I read the Bible is generally to pick it apart and put it in neat boxes, when Scripture itself was not written that way. It is full of story and mystery, song and poetry. As I begin to see it more in that light, reading it holds an entirely new magic that excites me to the core. More on that soon.

I just finished reading 'A New Kind of Christian' by Brian McLaren, and all I can say is... READ IT. The writing itself is a bit rough, but McLaren admits as much in the introduction. Read the book instead for the content, which just might shake things up for you as it has me. Depending upon your current views of God and Christianity, this book will most likely shock you and could possibly make you angry. There were many moments when I found myself appalled because what I was reading was so different from what I've always been taught... from what has always been presented as infallible truth. But McLaren does not once question the reality of God or the truth of the Bible, just our 'modern', neatly organized perception of these. In spite of the uncomfortable moments, I absolutely loved it. My comments here may cause some of you to worry that I am going off the deep end, but I can assure you that I love and desire to glorify God more today than I ever have before. It is just that there are many questions raging in my mind. There are some things about our way of practicing religion that just don't sit right, and reading McLaren's book gave me courage that I'm not alone. Others of you who have been asking these questions, reading books like this one, and discussing postmodernism and the emerging church for years are probably going to wonder, "Where has she been?" Either way, here a couple thoughts.

Without a doubt, God used this entire year in Africa to challenge my thinking in many key areas. One of the main ones was that He is a global God to the core. He created culture and diversity, and the job of a missionary is not to bring our Western way of "doing church" to the nations, but instead to just bring Christ. These are two very different things, I realized more and more as the year went on. Another concept that has always made me a bit uncomfortable is the way we talk about getting "saved" or being "born again". I agree with McLaren's fictional character, Dan, who has this to say:

"Now, the real issue isn't an emotional crisis or the stereotypical experience of being "saved" or "born again" or of "crossing a line" and then stopping there. The issue isn't signing on to a new set of beliefs alone. The issue is following Jesus, joining him in his adventure and mission of saving the world and expressing God's love. If a person isn't moving ahead on that journey, then no matter how many aisles he walks down and cards he fills out and "sinner's prayers" he says, whether or not he is going to heaven, there is still no way we can say in any meaningful sense that he is experiencing salvation." (pg. 132)

To take this a little deeper into rough waters, how exactly do we define "the Gospel"?!? It is, after all, what we are supposed to be sharing. I have always been slightly uncomfortable with the idea that every relationship I have is some sort of undercover rescue mission, with the sole purpose of the friendship being to convince the other that my ideas are the right ones. I love people, and genuinely want to know and understand my friends... both those I have now and those I will have in the future. No hidden agenda. I learned in Mozambique that love... AUTHENTIC love... really changes people. This is not in any way a new or profound idea, but I think we can too easily get wrapped up with getting someone "in" that we forget about the person. McLaren's character, Neo, uses the analogy of dancing to describe a different approach to sharing Christ:

"Instead of conquest, instead of a coercive rational argument or an emotionally intimidating sales pitch or an imposing crusade or an aggressive debating contest where we hope to 'win' them for Christ, I think of it like a dance. You know, in a dance, nobody wins and nobody loses. Both parties listen to the music and try to move with it. In this case, I hear the music of the gospel, and my friend doesn't, so I try to help him hear it and move with it. And like a dance, I have to ask if the other person wants to participate." (pg. 62)

Two weeks ago, not long after Sarah and I had returned home, we went swing dancing with some friends. I was nervous to go because I have very little experience dancing and didn't want to look like a complete idiot, something that seems to happen a lot:). Our partners, however, were excellent dancers and made me feel like I was ready for 'Dancing with the Stars'. Of all the things we have done since being home, that night was my favorite. And now I cannot wait to dance again! Because of this experience, I loved McLaren's analogy all the more.

During the past several weeks I have felt isolated, even depressed at times (something that is quite unusual for me). Alone in the questionings of my mind and heart, not knowing where I could go to talk about them. But today I feel an amazing FREEDOM that I cannot explain. It is as if God has been beckoning me to come closer to Him... to go deeper with Him... but I have been fighting to remain comfortably in my box of familiar Christianity, and to face issues and questions with my usual methods instead of letting go and letting God do a new thing. Now there are a million more questions in my mind. But I am hopeful because today, more than ever before, I am finally ready to ask them. To go there. Maybe this is crazy, but I feel peace.

I have also been wrestling with God about my future... at least, the next year and a half or so of it. But that's another story for another day...


andrew j. ulasich said...

What I appreciate about McLaren is the freedom he encourages to question. And the questions he raises are ones, I believe, we must be asking. People may fear questioning (or doubting) some of the ways evangelicals have interpreted and proclaimed the gospel. But we must be honest with ourselves and with God.

I'd love to talk more about the book with you and those many questions if you want. I'd also recommend his books A Generous Orthodoxy, and The Secret Message of Jesus. I think A New Kind of Christian raises questions and confronts things we've grown up being taught, while these two flesh out what McLaren believes Jesus' message, from the Scriptures, actually is.

d.henry said...

hey! Great thoughts! I love your honesty and your courage to question. I'm confident that your questioning will also lead to finding.It's a very, very cool thing.
It reminds of that scene in the Matrix where that one guy takes the pill and everything changes. It sort of feels like that, eh!
Know that I'm praying for you.