Seems like every time Brian McLaren writes a new book it stirs the senses and sensibilities of many. Today marked the release of A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith. Another NKOC. I don’t have a copy though I tried to get a review copy a couple of ways. They got away too quickly.
Today I read a few pieces critiquing Brian’s work. For example, Daryl Dash notes an attempt to hedge the conversation before it gets off the ground. When does an author get to set the agenda for the response? This seems to be Dash’s initial criticism. Bill Kinnon presses the implication further by noting it really disingenuous to invite a conversation and accuse any critic of fundamentalism. Bill quotes Scot McKnight’s Beliefnet post on the subject. Jeremy Bouma writes as an insider turned engaging critic. Bouma argues for the Rule of Faith as the guiding agenda for any theological innovation.
I read these pieces before dialing in for a conference call with Brian on drop day for the new book. Here are a few things I came away with from that event. First, Brian contends some will receive what he writes as if he arrived from another planet. Their particular reading of the Scripture and the history of the Church will create a sense of vertigo. Spinning from his thoughts and contentions may not be experienced, Brian suggests, if you read from an Eastern Orthodox or Anabaptist Tradition; think Radical Reformers. When it comes to the atonement he may well be correct. My conversations with friends in the Eastern Orthodox Church certainly do not see the atonement in the same way those from a Reformed Tradition do. One must decide if the Eastern Orthodox church is illegitimate leading to a summary dismissal or, is there a place for a another theory of the atonement taking center stage. Caricatures serve no one hoping to facilitate conversation – Brian or any other author. And, I fear sometimes this unfortunate lapse comes to us all.
Second, McLaren suggests a narrative telling the way the world works should not be a “crushing narrative.” That is, if choosing one narrative above another is a violent move to the other/Other, then it really does not have a place. More and more I am inclined to think the way of love and grace would be the best corrective for the dehumanization prevalent in our culture – be it abortion or the death penalty. But, on some level all of us must succumb to love and in some sense that could be violent to our ego, or will. Brian mentioned Father Richard Rohr and his Daily Meditations. Today, Father Rohr noted suffering leads to transformation as it forces something on the will un-willingly. Since the ego often stands in the way of transformation, suffering becomes a violent event for the will. An aversion to violence and its accompanying metaphors and language does not in any way require the same image from helping us to see just how in need of transformation by the love of God we are. It can be a violent act whether or not we care for that picture or not. Certainly Brian would prefer a different picture, and maybe more of us would too. But, there is something helpful about the provocative reification of a word that grabs our attention.
Finally, I appreciate Brian inviting readers, and in this case listeners, to read the Scriptures from different perspectives. I could not help of thinking of the little book What Do They Hear?, as he noted the ways the Scripture is read in different cultural contexts. This is very difficult for we in the AmericaWest to figure out what to do about. We believe our vision to be univocal. Mark Allan Powell helps us understand how readers being trained to pastor in their context “hear,” say, the story of the Lost/Prodigal Son. Quite different in Siberia or sub-Saharan Africa than what we have accustomed ourselves to. I would contend this adds breadth. It is akin to reading commentary passages from the Early Church Fathers and gaining insight gleaned in a different day, in different settings. The great fear is to suggest the stories then become relative in the sense they lose any meaning. Could it be they gain a fuller meaning?
Several times over the past ten or so years, I have had a number of conversations with Brian. I recall him taking some time to chat with me during a conference he attended in Nashville. He has obliged me for an interview for a research project. So, while I may not always find myself driven to the same conclusions, I always appreciate the occasion to be stretched and learn from others – even if I do not end up a sycophantic ally.