Book review: A New Kind of Christianity

Brian McLaren has emerged as a voice that asks aloud the questions that
many of us have wrestled with in silence. As a result, he has been
lionized (and sometimes idolized) by those who find resonance with his
theological ponderings. He has simultaneously been demonized and even
slandered by those who are disturbed by his explorations into what it
means to follow Jesus in the 21st century. He has become both an
antenna and a lightning rod for the light and heat generated by the
friction of Christianity's transition into post-modernism.

I have just finished reading McLaren's latest book, A New Kind of Christianity. Having read several of McLaren's other books, I would consider this one
to be essential. I mean "essential" in two different ways:

1. "Essential" in the sense that A New Kind of Christianity is a streamlined and tightly focused distillation of ideas that McLaren
has explored elsewhere. This book seems to contain the concentrated
essence of what McLaren's theological labor has produced thus far. I
often found points which he had sketched out in previous books now
re-drawn in sharp, clear and muscular form. As a result--at under 300
pages--this book packs a great deal of theological, intellectual and
inspirational punch.

2. "Essential" in the sense that A New Kind of Christianity is the Brian McLaren book to read, whether you haven't read anything else by him or whether you have read everything else by him.

A New Kind of Christianity is built around the exploration of ten important questions that
Christians throughout the world seem to be asking more and more and
with greater urgency. These questions are:

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. What do we do now? (How do we translate our quest into action?)

McLaren doesn't so much provide pat answers to these questions as give
thoughtful responses which leave the door open for further exploration.
His tone throughout is humble, circumspect and low-key. This is not a
book for people who want a pedagogue to tell them what to believe.
Rather it inspires you to bring your own theology into the light and
take an honest look at what you believe, why you believe it and if,
perhaps, you ought to rethink a thing or two (or ten).

As an example, early on McLaren provides a brilliantly simple visual
representation of the Biblical narrative according to Western
"Greco-Roman" Christianity (aka Catholicism & Protestantism). He
then proceeds to carefully deconstruct that "Greco-Roman" narrative and
present an alternate "Hebrew" narrative which is vibrant, hopeful,
appealing and, frankly, makes a whole lot more sense. One begins to
realize that this "New Kind of Christianity" is also very ancient.

The new narrative that Brian postulates is utterly Christ-centered. At its core is the idea that Jesus is the revelation of God. If we want to understand what God is like, we ought to give our primary focus to seeing what Jesus was like, and not lose sight of that. This book will either excite, edify and motivate you or it will scare you (because it challenges the status quo--as Jesus nearly always does).

As a Quaker, I found myself surprised at the parallels to Quaker theology
which I found all through this book. I had an opportunity to ask Brian
about this on a conference call and he responded very enthusiatically.
He is quite familiar with the theology of Friends and spoke in glowing
terms of Quakers. Perhaps George Fox & Co. were at the far bleeding
edge of what has come to be called the Emergent Church Movement! In the
book, McLaren refers to those throughout Church history who, like the
Quakers and Anabaptists, provided a "minority report" on what it means
to follow Jesus.

On that same conference call, McLaren said that it took him far longer to write this book than any other book he has
written. It shows. Now that I have finished reading it, I plan to begin
re-reading it immediately. This is an extremely important book. Buy it.
I am not exaggerating when I say that if I could afford to, I would get
a copy for every Christian and every spiritual seeker I know.

Views: 127

Comment by Bill Samuel on 2nd mo. 24, 2010 at 8:06am
It also provides a challenge to liberal Quakerism. Liberal Quakers have wrestled with some of the same questions and downgraded Jesus. Brian puts Jesus Christ first. Brian's work should be helpful for Christian Friends in dialoguing with other liberal Friends. Many of Brian's thoughts echo those of early Friends. But his earlier books did not acknowledge that. Brian is widely read by Friends, and he was the keynote speaker for North Carolina YM (FUM) in 2008, I think it was. He talked to me about that experience.
Comment by Chris Mohr on 3rd mo. 16, 2010 at 12:46am
Thanks, Danny. I bought the book based on your review -- I don't usually buy new hardcover books but this sounded good. I'm about 75% done and I love it!

I find this book speaks more to my condition than the previous ones by him that I've read. He's spending less time explaining WHY he has a generous orthodoxy, and more time explaining the implications of that belief system, and how those beliefs may be lived out via the 10 questions he identifies.


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