The blogosphere has erupted with conversation over Brian McLaren’s newest book, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith.
Traditional evangelicals claim the book is heretical. Some in the Emerging Church conversation, who have been quietly distancing themselves from McLaren, are now publicly registering their disagreement.
Since there are already a good number of in depth reviews, I will hold my comments to a few observations. I believe that, when the dust settles, this book might prove to be good for the Emerging Church. Here are three reasons why:
1. McLaren is drawing lines and forcing people to choose camps.
Do you see the irony here? McLaren, who has blasted traditional Christians for “drawing lines” and dividing people into “insiders” and “outsiders”, has written a book so opposed to orthodox Christianity that he has marginalized himself.
McLaren is forcing people to choose between his camp and “fundamentalism”. Gone are the days of nuance and subtle distinction. If you oppose McLaren, you must be held captive to a Platonic, dualistic worldview of fundamentalist black and white.
This book will hopefully lead to soul-searching (and maybe even Scripture-searching!) for those who still claim the Emerging label. McLaren’s proposal makes people decide whether they view Christianity the way he does, or whether they stand with Nicea, Chalcedon, and the Reformation. You are either with him or against him.
2. McLaren’s proposal demonstrates the hypocrisy of liberalism.
Another point of irony: McLaren comes across in this book like a fundamentalist arguing for liberalism. The gentle and humble tone of some of McLaren’s previous books is drowned out by his scorn for traditional Christianity. I believe it is hypocritical for McLaren to argue against the perceived attitudes of his “fundamentalist” opponents while displaying the same attitude that he supposedly rejects.
Also interesting… Though McLaren has built a reputation as being opposed to modernist thought, his newest book may very well be the quintessential modernist project. For all his talk about leaving the confines of Western, Modern, American thought, he is blazing a very Western, Modern, American trail. He is the lone ranger leading us into the Promised Land. Everyone else has it wrong, but this American has it right. Goodness, he even throws in some typical American anti-intellectualism. (After all, McLaren was never “corrupted” by seminary education.)
For all his talk about community over individualism, McLaren would be hard pressed to find any continuity with past Christians regarding the kind of beliefs he is now espousing. There is simply no community within historic Christianity that has advocated these views in this form.
It is hypocritical for McLaren to make himself out to be the 21st century man with postmodern sensibilities, deferring to the “community of faith.” No… he is the lone individual standing over against the community of faith through the ages. He has become exactly what he formerly opposed.
3. This book will cause other conversationalists within the Emerging Church to clarify their beliefs.
The best part of McLaren’s work is that it leads the Emerging Church to the very place that many within the movement have resisted for so long: clarity and definition. From this point on, because of McLaren’s polarizing proposal, those associated with Emergent Village will be inevitably forced to clarify their beliefs in distinction to McLaren’s.
I remember the days when Emerging Church folks were weary of traditionalists always asking them to be more clear and direct about their beliefs. Now, McLaren himself has sounded the clarion call for people who believe like him to be honest. Mike Wittmer writes:
McLaren says that at the beginning of their movement, he and his friends were “peace-loving people” who didn’t “want to needlessly upset anyone,” so they thought, ‘Maybe this new understanding can simply be added to what we already have, gradually, gently, so people won’t even notice…Maybe we can simply add this kingdom-of-God stuff as fine print on the bottom of our existing theological contracts…without upsetting anyone.”
Brian writes that “Many are still working with this hope, and I wish them luck”—which should be a wake-up call to us all. Brian says that for his part he can no longer pretend, for “the cat is out of the bag” and it’s time to be honest about his new Christianity and admit that it can’t be crammed into the traditional way the church has believed in God.
There you have it. McLaren is the one calling for clarity. In this case, I hope that his sympathizers will follow his advice. We will all be the better for it.