If you regularly read my personal blog, you'll know that for the past few weeks I've been discussing Brian McLaren's new book A New Kind of Christianity. I finally finished the book (hey, I'm a slow reader!), and here are my final thoughts.
In the book, McLaren proposed ten questions that are transforming the Christian faith:
1. What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
2. How should the Bible be understood?
3. Is God violent?
4. Who is Jesus and why is He important?
5. What is the Gospel?
6. What do we do about the Church?
7. Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
8. Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
9. How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
10. How can we translate our quest into action?
For McLaren, the problem isn't with God or the Bible; the problem is how mankind has interpreted the Bible, specifically the overarching story line of Scripture. He explains that our conventional way of viewing the Bible's story narrative (Creation-->Fall-->Condemnation-->Salvation-->Heaven or Hell) is more of a "Greco-Roman narrative" based on the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle than what the Bible actually says. According to McLaren, the biblical narrative has three dimensions that present in both the Old Testament and the Gospels: creation, liberation, and the peaceful kingdom. From here he goes on to explain how the Kingdom of God is more than just going to Heaven when we die, that the Bible should be read as a portable library rather than a constitution, and that we need to do a better job showing Christ's grace to others.
(There's a lot more to the book than just the simple synopsis I offer above, but I try to keep my summaries short so bear with me.)
McLaren is at his best when he writes about the Kingdom of God, which, as he explains, is Jesus' primary message. As I mentioned earlier, the Kingdom of God does not just mean Heaven; it's a new way of living here on Earth, reconciled with God and each other, and using our gifts to love and serve one another. And the more I read the Bible, the more I see that Jesus not only gives us life after death, but also life before death. The Bible says we are "buried with [Jesus] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Romans 6:4, emphasis mine)
McLaren's also right about the need to love our neighbors better. I've seen way too many Christians with this "us vs. them" mentality, where they view gays, Muslims, and liberals not as fellow sinners, but as "the enemy" is a never-ending war. The way I see it, technically we're all in the same boat. We're all sinners. We're all broken people who need grace. And I think if we remember this, we can do a better job showing God's grace to others.
The one thing I'm not sure about is the "Greco-Roman narrative" concept. When I read the Bible, I see both this "Greco-Roman narrative" and McLaren's three-dimensional narrative both happening at the same time. Yes, the themes of creation, liberation, and the peaceful kingdom often occur throughout the Scriptures. However, the Bible says Adam brought death and condemnation to all mankind (Romans 5:12), which, if I'm interpreting correctly, points to the Greco-Roman narrative concept of The Fall. Also, Jesus Himself mentions a place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth" several times in the Gospels.
Overall I give A New Kind of Christianity 3.5 out of 5. While McLaren is right on about the need to have a better interpretation of the Scriptures, some of his concepts are confusing to me.
(And before any accuses me, I am not a Brian basher. I still consider myself a fan of McLaren's work, and I admire him for talking about things a lot of Christians are afraid to talk about. I recently had the chance to interviewed him last week for my podcast, and he's a really nice guy.)