A New Kind of Christian

Brian McLaren. A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey. Jossey-Bass, 2001. (170 pages)

Introduction: The True Story Behind this Story

There was a third alternative that I hadn’t yet considered: learn to be a Christian in a new way. (x)

If I could seriously ponder ending my life then I can do anything. I can change anything in my life. So instead of ending my life altogether, I’ll end my life as I’ve been living it and start a new kind of life. I can now see a third alternative to the status quo and suicide.

Either Christianity itself is flawed, failing, untrue, or our modern, Western commercialized, industrial-strength version of it is in need of a fresh look, a serious revision. (xv)

…I explore, albeit indirectly, several questions:

  1. Why am I not the same kind of Christian I used to be?
  2. What might a new kind of Christian be like?
  3. How might one become a new kind of Christian if one is so inclined?

When you’re on a really long voyage, you have to get beyond asking, “Are we there yet?” and instead start asking, “Are we making progress?” (xviii)

1. Sometime the Peacock Wish to Be the Seagull

2. Entering That Awkward Age, or Does Jonah Eat Bagels?

To be postmodern means to have experienced the modern world and to have been changed by the experience–changed to such a degree that one is no longer modern. (16)

1. First, Modernity was an era of conquest and control. (16)

…once you’ve conquered something, you nee to keep it conquered, which means controlled. (16)

2. It was the age of the machine. (16)

3. It was an age of analysis. (16)

…analysis renders the universe both knowable and controllable.

4. It was the age of secular science. (17)

5. It was an age aspiring to absolute objectivity. (17)

As a result, in modern times, narrative, poetry, and the arts in general (which yield softer, more impressionistic returns than science, math, or engineering) took a back seat, or else they were asked to leave the car entirely to hitchhike on their own. (17)

6. It was a critical age. (17)

7. It was the age of the modern nation-state and organization. (18)

8. It was the age of individualism. (18)

9. It was the age of Protestantism and institutional religion. (18)

10. It was the age of consumerism. (18)

3. Dan Discovers Where the Cross Meets the Dream Catcher

…he who marries the spirit of the age is sure to be a widow in the next. (22)

Is it possible to have a faith that transcends the historical situation we find ourselves in? (22)

“God is in control.” … In other words, for you to be in control means to make something happen your way, the way an operator operates a machine, flipping switches, turning gears, pressing buttons, causing effects that cause other effects. (23)

4. What a Difference a Worldview Makes

The year 1500 works as a transition point to the modern era for a number of reasons. Consider the confluence of world-changing events that occurred around 1500

GENERAL CATEGORY SPECIFIC EVENT
1. New communication technology, with profound effects on how people learn, think, and live. The printing press revolutionizes human culture.
2. New scientific worldview, with staggering implications for humanity. Copernicus asserts that the earth is not the center of the universe, toppling the medieval model of the universe.
3. A new intellectual elite emerges, challenging church authority and introducing a new epistemology (way of knowing). Galileo, Newton, Bacon, and others give birth to modern science.
4. New transportation technologies increase the interaction of world cultures around the globe, making the world seem smaller. The development of the caravel (sailing ship) for long voyages makes possible the explorations of the late thirteenth to early sixteenth centuries.
5. Decay of an old economic system and rise of a new one. Market capitalism replaces feudalism.
6. New military technology. Development of modern guns leads to the development of the modern infantry and rise of modern nation-state.
7. New attack on dominant authorities, with defensive reaction. Protestant Reformation denies the authority of the Roman Catholic Church; Counter-Reformation develops in response.

Now think of the similar confluence of changes clustering around the year 2000

GENERAL CATEGORY SPECIFIC EVENT
1. New communication technology, with profound effects on how people learn, think, and live. Radio and television, and then the computer and the Internet, revolutionize human culture.
2. New scientific worldview, with staggering implications for humanity. Post-Einsteinian theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, indeterminacy, and the expanding universe unsettle the stable, mechanistic worldview of modern science; psychology, psychiatry, neuropsychology, and psychopharmacology create new ways of seeing ourselves and new crises in epistemology.
3. A new intellectual elite emerges, challenging church authority and introducing a new epistemology (way of knowing). Postmodern philosophy challenges all existing elites and deconstructs existing epistemologies.
4. New transportation technologies increase the interaction of world cultures around the globe, making the world seem smaller. The development of air travel leads to the trivialization of national borders and intensifies the interaction of world cultures.
5. Decay of an old economic system and rise of a new one. The global economy transforms both communism and capitalism, and the development of e-commerce suggests further market revolution.
6. New military technology. Air warfare and nuclear weapons change the face of warfare, and the new threat of terrorism (especially chemical and biological), power-grid sabotage, and cybercrime begin to revolutionize the role of governments in keeping the peace.
7. New attack on dominant authorities, with defensive reaction. Secularism, materialism, and urbanism contribute to the decline of institutional religion worldwide; fundamentalist movements arise in reaction and self-defense.

5. Neo Worries About Keeping Up with Jesus

…all ages are ages of change, but not all ages involve transition. (40)

6. Hot Words About Biblical Interpretation

So the real authority does not reside in the text itself, in the ink on paper, which is always open to misinterpretation–sometimes, history tells us, horrific and dangerous misinterpretation. Instead, the real authority lies in Go, who is there behind the text or beyond it or above it, right? In other words, the authority is not in what I say the text says but in what God says the text says. (50)

Our interpretations reveal less about God or the Bible than they do about ourselves. (50)

What if the real issue is not the authority of the text down on this line but rather the authority of God, moving mysteriously up here on a higher level, a foot above the ground? What if the issue isn’t a book that we can misinterpret with amazing creativity but rather the will of God, the intent of God, the desire of God, the wisdom of God–maybe we could say the kingdom of God? (51)

But if there is a real, living, active, relevant desire of God and wisdom from Go that needs to be brought to bear on our concrete life situation, then both sides had better move to the edge of their seats, start praying, start listening to each other, and start reading the Bible in fresh ways for all the new wisdom they can mine from it, don’t you think?” (51)

Well, the Bible does the same thing. It tells the family story–the story of the people who have been called by the one true God to be his agents in the world, to be his servants to the rest of the world. (52)

It’s a book that calls together and helps create a community, a community that is a catalyst for God’s work in our world. (53)

7. Letting the Bible Read Us

What if faith isn’t best compared to a building, but rather to a spiderweb? (54)

[reference to John Wesley’s four forces: Wesleyan Quadrilateral]

Maybe postmodernism is postanalytical and postcritical. (56)

You’re saying we need to approach the Bible more that way. You’re saying we need to flirt with it, romance it–or maybe let it message romance us. (57)

I wonder what would happen if we honestly listened to the story and put ourselves under its spell, so to speak, not using it to get all of our questions bout God answered but instead trusting God to use it to pose questions to (57) us about us. (58)

8. Yea, But What About the Other Guys?

…when it comes to other religions, the challenge in modernity was to prove that we’re right and they’re wrong. But I think we have a different challenge in postmodernity. The question isn’t so much whether we’re right but whether we’re good. And it strikes me that goodness, not just rightness, is what Jesus said the real issue was–you know, good trees produce good fruit, that sort of thing. If we Christians would take all the energy we put into proving we’re right and others are wrong and invested that energy in pursuing and doing good, somehow I think that more people would believe we are right. (61)

…truth means more than factual accuracy. It means being in sync with God. (61)

Demonstration must accompany proclamation … think of it like a dance. (62)

Bu Christianity and Jesus don’t seem to have too much in common, as far as I can see. (64)

I think some Christians use Jesus as a shortcut to being right. In the process they bypass becoming humble or wise. They figure if they say ‘Jesus’ enough, it guarantees they won’t be stupid. … If people reject Jesus when they hear some half-baked would-be evangelist strutting his stuff and mocking the Buddha or Muhammad, I don’t think they’re really rejecting Jesus. They’re rejecting the arrogance, ignorance, and bad taste of the preacher. (65)

9. Redeeming Our Culture over Dinner

[Religion] The old Latin roots of the word simply mean ‘reconnecting,’ you know–broken ligaments, severed connections, being re-connected and defragmented. That sounds like exactly what we need, don’t you think? We’re ‘deligamented,’ disconnected, fragmented people who need to be ‘religamented,’ reconnected, put back together with God, with one another, reintegrated within ourselves, reconnected to the world we are a part of. (72)

I think what people really mean when they say they are against organized religion is that they’re against hypocritical religion, misguided religion, blind or unthinking religion, religion of rules and laws rather than love, religion that comes diced and preprocessed and shrink-wrapped like ground beef. (73)

Jesus came not to drive the culture from the people but the sin from the culture. He came not to condemn our culture but to redeem it. (75)

Dance is actually a form of prayer. (76)

…the parts of the Bible that bother you most are the ones that have the most to teach you. (79)

It seems like we see the Bible through whatever lens we get from our culture. (79)

…at the end of the day we have to trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us. (79)

10. C.S. Lewis in the Pulpit, or What Is Heaven About Anyway?

He said that he had been raised as I had, to believe that the central story of the Bible was about saving individual souls. The gospel, as he (and I) had understood it was about getting individual souls into heaven. (82)

…that growth matters so the church can become more and more catalytic for the kingdom of God, for the good of the world. (84)

Blaise Pascal reminds us, “We are embarked.” In other words, if you are alive, you’ve already set sail. (88)

Joy is the serious business of heaven. (89)

When perfection comes, the imperfect disappears…Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (89)

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Those who have this hope within them purify themselves, just as he is pure. (90)

…the reality of death gives us an important gift every day: it reminds us that we can’t keep putting off the work of becoming. (91)

11. Getting Beyond Righteousness

…don’t you think that all of the language about heaven and hell is evocative language, not technical description? (95)

Spiritual realities require risky language,.. (95)

How do we remain open and accepting of people, without compromising and condoning sin? (96)

Does one have to be wrong and the other right? (98)

…who was the greater sinner, the woman caught in adultery or the Pharisee holding a stone ready to execute her? (99)

How much energy do we modern Christians put into condemning sexual sins compared to avoiding the judgmental, Pharisaical attitude of those with rocks in their hands? (99)

…modern individualism has truncated our view of sin. (99)

The issue is who is truly good. (101)

And to be a good neighbor means recognizing that there are ultimately no strangers. (101)

12. French Fries and the Kingdom of God

I don’t even think of them as Christians or non-Christians. I just think of them as people I love. (103)

I am not too fond of that expression, ‘friendship evangelism.’ It can prostitute friendship. (104)

In that unique context, it meant a total reversal of everything Nicodemus assumed about what being religious was all about. It meant a radical humbling, a going back to the beginning, becoming a little child rather than a big religious scholar. (105)

I don’t think that most Christians have any idea what the gospel really is. (105)

The Kingdom of God transcends the normal level of discourse. (107)

But the story itself is bigger and more important than any doctrine or theory we lift out of it or impose on it. (108)

I’d encourage us to count conversations, because conversation implies a real relationship,… But if we keep trying to convert people, we’ll simply drive them away. (109)

Stop counting conversions and start counting conversations. (109)

13. Spiritual Practices: Secret and Shared

…postmodern is post-Protestant. (117)

I felt that most preachers didn’t preach good news about grace; they preached bad news about inadequacy and pressure. (121)

That suggests to me that we would make our church services les about preparing to do something spiritual at home on their own and actually doing something spiritual here and now. (121)

I do believe in preaching, but maybe in preaching as  front door that invites people into other, more intense experiences. (122)

14. It’s None of Your Business Who Goes to Hell

But Jesus didn’t get crucified for being exclusive; he was hated and crucified for the reverse–for opening the windows of grace and the doors of heaven to the tax collectors and prostitutes, the half-breeds and ultimately even Gentiles. Right? (127)

Is getting individual souls into heaven the focal point of the gospel? (129)

Do you think that God (129) would want a heaven filled with people who cared more about being saved from hell than saved from sin? Who cared more about getting their butts into heaven than being good? Who cared more about having their sins forgiven than being good neighbors? Who in fact became worse neighbors precisely because they became so religious in their concern about their own personal souls? (130)

I think we would be more in line with the spirit of the gospel if we invite by inclusion, saying, “God loves you. God accepts you. Are you ready to accept your acceptance and live in reconciliation with God?” (130)

What if forgiving our sins is actually the same thing as judging them? … Try this: What if some people do so little good and so much bad in their lives that when God forgives and forgets all their sins, there just isn’t much left to remember? (130)

…maybe the real enemy isn’t hell but instead living out of harmony with God, disconnected. So salvation is joining God’s mission instead of trying to live by our own selfish personal agenda. (132)

…joining him in his adventure and mission of saving the world and expressing God’s love. (132)

15. Beginning the Journey into Terra Nova

Christianity didn’t own God. (140)

16. Notes on Church Leadership from One Certified Nobody to Another

Innovation means introducing a bold new system, a new philosophy, a whole new plan. (148)

Are you in the cassette business or the music business? (149)

Ultimately this transition is not about changes in musical style, preaching style, liturgy, or architecture, although all of those things may change if we go through the transition. At heart, it’s about attitude, theology, and spirituality. People talk a lot about “seeker-sensitive services,” but I think the real issue is “seeker-sensitive people” with “seeker-sensitive attitudes”–all of which would flow from a more missional theology and spirituality. (153)

Two key qualities for leaders in transition–both of which you have in abundance–would be compassion and patience. (153)

I firmly believe that the top question of the new century and new millennium is not just whether Christianity is rational, credible, and essentially true (all of which I believe it is) but whether it can be powerful, redemptive, authentic, and good, whether it can change lives, demonstrate reconciliation and community, serve as a catalyst for the kingdom, and lead to a desirable future. (154)

…church is ultimately a consumer or customer satisfaction project… (155)

In my thinking, church doesn’t exist for the benefit of its members. It exists to equip its members for the benefit of the world. (155)

I believe the kingdom is much larger than the church, and the more successful the church is in mission, the more expansive the kingdom. … Our mission is comprehensive–so that every Christian, “clergy” and “lay” (troublesome terms themselves), is equally sent–to a classroom, a factory, an office building, a highway, a jungle, whatever–to be an agent of Christ, an agent of the kingdom. (Paul called them “peace ambassadors of Christ.”) (156)

Thankfully, his mission isn’t to make more and more people more and more religious! (157)

According to the Bible, humans shall not live by systems and abstractions and principles alone but also by stories and poetry and proverbs and mystery. And best of all, instead of lending us moralisms that we must try to impose on followers of different stories (consider the story of Western civilization), it calls us to live as part of its own story, the story of a loving Creator who started something wonderful and beautiful that in spite of our many failures he will surely bring to a good completion. (159)

…”theology.” For me, it’s not so much a list of beliefs or an outline of beliefs. It’s more of a story, the story of how people have sought and learned about God through the centuries. (161)

[Every model] must always be open to correction, adjustment, improvement, even revolution. Otherwise, we stop being disciples and become know-it-alls. (162)

REFLECTIONS

To define, or rather re:define what we’ve always thought seems to be the important focus that we all need to clearly see. A new kind of Christian for a new kind of world. I believe more has changed in me, to date, by reading this book than any other thus far.

The Gospel is power and powerful and empowering for us who own methods, attitudes and minds which, in comparison to the creator of the world, are powerless.

About VIA

www.kevinneuner.com

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