I have a little time between reading things for school, so I decided to try blogging through a book. For variety, and because I know a lot of people who are interested in it, I picked up Brian McLaren’s recently-released A New Kind of Christianity.
I want to provide a little context first, because there is no question that McLaren is a polarizing figure. I’m not a hater, I’m really not. I resonate with many of the frustrations about Evangelicalism that McLaren and his friends in the emerging church are leveling. I too want a Christianity which is engage redemptively with the world around us. I use the same language to critique some of the problems in the church – it’s dualistic, it’s Platonic, etc. Heck, in moments of indiscretion, you might even hear me call myself “postmodern.” All of this explains why a part of me wants really badly for this to be a great, insightful, redemptive book.
But all I can think about is an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Faith, Buffy’s evil foil, takes over her body. She looks like Sarah Michelle Gellar. She has the same whiny but self-assured voice and posture. She even says the things Buffy would. But there’s something terribly wrong. She’s seducing Buffy’s boyfriend, taking advantage of her friends, and generally making a mess of everything the true heroine believes in.
This is exactly how I feel a third of the way through the book. Brian McLaren hates dualistic, Platonistic Christianity. I do too. But by those words he means he hates the Fall, atonement, salvation through Christ alone, and any claim to final knowledge about truth. I mean something much different.
(Incidentally, someone might want to explain to him that the ancient world didn’t combine Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy, that it was actually the Stoics who were the big philosophical influence on Rome, and that Rome as a whole was much more inclusive and religiously relativistic than it was obsessed with doctrine and creeds. His story about Greco-Roman thought on pp. 37-45 made the historian in me both laugh and convulse at the same time – an uncomfortable experience, I assure you.)
Brian McLaren wants to escape the Enlightenment. So do I. But I certainly don’t mean an escape from “answers” to questions in favor of “responses,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Nor do I have a desire to lump every Protestant theologian who has ever lived into the category of “children of the era of Sir Isaac Newton, the conquistadors, colonialism…, nationalism, and capitalism.” (8)
Brian McLaren wants a more Jewish understanding of Jesus. Again, I would say the same words. But for McLaren, Jews of the first century are suspiciously light on the judgment and set-apartness and exclusivity that I had (apparently mistakenly) believed to be hallmarks of the way they interpreted the Old Testament and its many passages about, well, judgment and set-apartness and exclusivity.
I realize this sounds harsh, but I’m not out to burn any witches. I’m just astounded by the breathtaking audacity with which McLaren declares a new Christianity built neither on rock nor even sand, but wish-thinking. It’s even harder because he tries so hard to still look like Buffy (which, admittedly, would make a fantastic photo on the book jacket’s About the Author section.) With a little rhetorical flair, he manages to compare himself and his allies in one chapter to Galileo, the founding fathers, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein, and (in a good way) Charles Darwin – and still sounds humble doing it! People I love, people I care about, will point to the humility, buy the martyr narrative, and proceed to discount the concerns which others will quite justifiably have with the book’s argument as just another oppressive, hidebound bunch of traditionalists who can’t believe that the earth is round.
But I’m still working on the book. More posts to come. I hope things get better, but I’m sadly not optimistic.