Growing up with two brothers we were often more concerned with “who got the last say” than anything else. You know, incessant sniping until Dad or Mom gave the final threat. The Bill Cospy-esque kind of threat, “I brought you into this world, I can take you out,” garden variety.
When it comes to theology it seems we have the fixation about who gets the last word. When Brian’s final installment of the “New Kind of Christian Trilogy,” The Last Word and the Word After That, came out the title provoked quite the concern. Anyone having read widely in Christian theology knew well Brian was thinking through the matter of the afterlife and certainly most wanted to know where he stood on Hell.
I will let you read to see where he ends up. My suggestion is you may want to read a bit of N.T. Wright along the way. Surely there are other influences on Brian’s thinking and musing on the subject, but it seems that N.T. Wright’s phrase, “life after life after death,” is in play.
A friend recently emailed and wanted to know what people would know after this life before the final act of God’s redemptive story. Weighty questions after Christmas. My chief concern is that we have too often negelected the import of the resurrection when these matters surface. We believe in an “embodied” faith. Thus, resurrection is vitally important. If you have opted for the non-metaphysical then the matter is settled. For those of us who still hold to the metaphysical, as unpopular as it may be to many, resurrection means something and the body is part of that something. So, the period we are talking about is the “in between.” The body-less part. It is this part that creates a question about the interrogatory evangelistic question, “Do you know where you would go if you were to die tonight?”
Frankly, I have my own contentions. But, the “in between” is one of those matters that is left more ambiguous than we like to think. Brian makes us think about these issues. If one fixates on who gets the last word on the subject then the essence of the triology is missed. McLaren pushes for an embodied faith, an incarnational – in the flesh – living the life of Jesus kind of faith. Precision for McLaren is better left to living out the grace, love and mercy of God to and with the “least of these.” It does not mean you cannot nail Brian down. The last word may be that taken together these three books outline a way forward where faith is more lived than talked or described. And, for those of us who grew up in fundamentalist and some evangelical environs, this is indeed new.