Question #5: “What Is The Gospel?” (McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity”)

In this series of posts we are taking the questions Brian McLaren addresses in “A New Kind of Christianity” one by one.  The method will be to ask the question, look at how McLaren believes Western Christianity answers the question, how McLaren answers the question himself and lastly how I would answer the question.  In this post, we will address the 5th question McLaren mentions in the book.

The Question:  What is the Gospel?

Western Christianity’s Answer:  Western Christianity’s answer, McLaren believes, would come mostly if not solely from the Book of Romans.  The Gospel according to Western Christianity is justification by grace through faith.  The Gospel according to Western Christianity is about how to escape earth and get to Heaven.  The Gospel is about avoiding Hell.  Ultimately, the Gospel is about me, me, me.

Brian McLaren’s Answer:  Brian McLaren wants to say that the Gospel is about the Kingdom of God coming to earth.  He emphasizes that what Jesus preached and talked about in the Gospels was the Kingdom of God being at hand.  McLaren then goes through the Book of Romans, which has so often been used to propound the “Gospel is about me” mindset, and he shows how he sees the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in it.  McLaren’s interpretation is as follows: Continue reading

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Question #4: “Who Is Jesus And Why Is He Important?” (McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity”)

In this series of posts we are taking the questions Brian McLaren addresses in “A New Kind of Christianity” one by one.  The method will be to ask the question, look at how McLaren believes Western Christianity answers the question, how McLaren answers the question himself and lastly how I would answer the question.  In this post, we will address the 4th question McLaren mentions in the book.

The Question:  Who is Jesus and why is he important?

Western Christianity’s Answer:  Instead of giving us a summary of who western Christians think Jesus is, McLaren takes this time to address two of his critics and their views of Jesus.  The first critic McLaren addresses is Mark Driscoll.  (McLaren never names his critics, but the quotes are widely available online, such that their identity is no secret).  Apparently, Driscoll has made the claim that McLaren wants to “recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes…In Revelation, Jesus is a prize-fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed.  That is the guy I can worship.  I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”  Wow. Continue reading

Question #3: “Is God Violent?” (McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity”)

In this series of posts we are taking the questions Brian McLaren addresses in “A New Kind of Christianity” one by one.  The method will be to ask the question, look at how McLaren believes Western Christianity answers the question, how McLaren answers the question himself and lastly how I would answer the question.  In this post, we will address the 3rd question McLaren mentions in the book.

The Question:  Is God Violent?

Western Christianity’s Answer:  McLaren doesn’t really have much to say about how Western Christianity has answered this question in the past.  He talks about how certain groups of many different religions have read their holy books in a constitutional way and have used their respective holy books to justify violence, but McLaren in no way indicates that he thinks this is normative of Western Christianity.  (For more on what it means to read the Bible in a constitutional way, read the post on Question 2: How Should The Bible Be Understood?)

Brian McLaren’s Answer:  In short, Brian McLaren’s answer to the question “Is God Violent?” is “No.”

The obvious next question, then, is “What about all those stories in the Old Testament where God seems to command and/or approve war?”  Continue reading

Question #2: “How Should the Bible Be Understood?” (McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity”)

In this series of posts we are taking the questions Brian McLaren addresses in “A New Kind of Christianity” one by one.  The method will be to ask the question, look at how McLaren believes Western Christianity answers the question, how McLaren answers the question himself and lastly how I would answer the question.  In this post, we will address the 2nd question McLaren mentions in the book.

The Question:  How should the Bible be understood?  McLaren calls this the “authority question”.

Western Christianity’s Answer:  McLaren thinks Western Christians read the Bible primarily as a constitution.  During a sermon or debate, a Western Christian tends to sound very much like a lawyer does in a courtroom.  A lawyer cites prior case-law, precedents, etc that may be found in court transcripts in order to prove his or her case.  Similarly, when in the midst of a discussion, Western Christians cite book, chapter and verse of the bible in order to prove whatever point they are trying to make.

Brian McLaren’s Answer:  McLaren proposes that “we read the Bible as an inspired library”.  He goes on to say that we need to pay attention to the context and genre of what is being written.  We should not read poems, parables, letters, proverbs, histories and prophecies the same way.  Each genre requires a different type of reading.  Continue reading

Question #1: “What is the Overarching Story Line of the Bible?” (McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity”)

In this series of posts we are taking the questions Brian McLaren addresses in “A New Kind of Christianity” one by one.  The method will be to ask the question, look at how McLaren believes Western Christianity answers the question, how McLaren answers the question himself and lastly how I would answer the question.

The Question:  What is the overarching story line of the Bible?

Western Christianity’s Answer: McLaren writes that the main storyline as it has been understood traditionally is as follows: Eden–>the Fall–>Condemnation–and from Condemnation either to Hell and Damnation or to Salvation or Heaven.  In other words, for the Christian, the storyline is Eden–>the Fall–>Condemnation–>Salvation–>Heaven.  For everyone else the storyline is Eden–>the Fall–>Condemnation–>Hell/Damnation.  McLaren argues that this storyline is too influenced by Greek philosophy.

The second key to understanding Western Christianity’s view of the storyline is that Western Christianity tends to read the Bible backwards, in this manner (although the specific names could change depending on different viewpoints):  Jesus–Paul–Augustine–Aquinas–Luther–Wesley–Billy Graham–etc.  When we view Jesus “backwards” in this manner, McLaren explains, we are really seeing Billy Graham’s view of Wesley’s view of Luther’s view of Aquinas’ view of Paul’s view of Jesus.  We do eventually see Jesus, but we see him through a bunch of people’s interpretive lenses.

Brian McLaren’s Answer: One corrective McLaren offers is the idea of reading the storyline of the Bible “forwards” instead of “backwards”.   Reading the Bible “forwards” looks like this: Adam–Abraham–Moses–David–the Prophets–John the Baptist–Jesus.  The reason this is superior to reading the Bible “backwards” is because this “forward” order is exactly how the Bible presents itself.  The storyline is one that climaxes and ends with Jesus. Continue reading

Book Review: Brian McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity”

Have you ever read a book that you felt like you could’ve written because you relate to it so well?  Have you ever read a book that as you read you felt like saying “Amen” on every page?  Have you ever read a book that left you feeling like the author could be your twin because you agreed with him or her so much?  Well this is not that book.

Every time I read a new book by Brian McLaren I cheer for joy and shake my head all at the same time.  I cheer for joy because I know that McLaren is going to address subjects that need to be addressed and ask questions that need to be asked.  I shake my head because, in my experience so far, McLaren’s answers to the questions he raises are usually too extreme.  And both of these things are even more true with his new book, A New Kind of Christianity.

In A New Kind of Christianity, after an introduction, McLaren asks 10 questions, tells how he thinks Western Christianity has answered each question, and then proposes a new answer for each question.  So, rather than try to fit all of that in one book review, I will address each question in a post of its own, discussing McLaren’s newly proposed answer and then what I think would be a better answer in each case.  I look forward to having a discussion with McLaren’s book, and also to whatever conversation we end up having in the comments.