Utilizing a novel literary genre left many thinking Brian McLaren offered a novel view of Christianity and so Christians. Recently the “New Kind of Christian Trilogy” (A New Kind of Christian, The Story We Find Ourselves In and The Last Word and the Word After That) came out in a new paperback format. I read each of these when they were originally published (2001, 2003, 2005).
I recently received the first two paperback versions for review. Tony Jones, in The New Christians, considered A New Kind of Christian to mark a watershed moment in what would propel discussions of the Emerging Church and gain publicity for Emergent Village. To say the emerging, Emerging, Emergent conjures controversy is an understatement. In fact, the controversy has tired so many the word “emerging” may be moving toward linguistic extinction as debate over its usefulness rolls on.
Is it possible to simply summarize what it seems is at the heart of McLaren’s project in the trilogy?Before going further, it would be a good idea to note I know Brian. My occasions to share time and conversations with Brian fail to expose him as the heretic who would undermine the “faith once for all delivered to the saints.” Instead, my encounters confirm a deep interest in Jesus and faithfulness to a commitment to the Triune God. Conversations imply learning not always sycophantic agreement.
My first read through A New Kind of Christian left me asking, “Who is Brian?” Fiction/Non-Fiction as a genre often leaves the reader speculating which, if any, character represents the author. I remember emailing Brian and asking, “So, which character are you?” His reply indicated it was not that simple. He may have been represented in a bit of both characters – Dan and Neo.
As such, it seems there is an interest to wrestle through to conclude there is a faithful expression of a commitment to the Triune God revealed in Jesus that may not look exactly like what we think it does. Rather than consider this problematic, it may be better to understand human wrestling with the revelation of God in Christ cannot be contained in one single formulation. So when Dan is forced to think through the relationship between his faith and science he eventually represents the suggestion contained in Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew.
The Story We Find Ourselves In is a curious attempt to help people locate themselves in the mega-narrative of God’s grand story. Rather than fit God’s story into ours, Brian is intent to suggest we stand under the activity of God in a way we are shaped as opposed to shaping God out of our experience. Some will suggest, and may have a valid critique, Brian’s own journey becomes something of a mega-narrative that gives him cause to “re-think” modern expressions of Christianity resulting in the trilogy.
If you are new to the emerging/missional/what’s coming move in American/Western forms of Christianity, this would be a place to get a sense of what is going on. Agree or disagree, the underlying project of the this trilogy continues to prompt a great deal of discussion and debate. You will likely want to read further. I suggest you do.