Local Natives – Who Knows Who Cares
So a bit ago, I got started on reviewing McLaren’s latest, A New Kind of Christianity, but I’ve obviously been sidetracked some. Which may be a good thing. It has given me some time to process it all a bit more and not respond purely out off the top of my head.
In that earlier post, I said that this book was a “bomb.” Not The Bomb, as the kids are prone to describe things they think are great, but in the more traditional sense of blowing stuff up. And blowing stuff up does seem to be McLaren’s intent. His book is an attempt to deconstruct a certain view of Christianity in order to posit a newer version. Hence, the title of the book. I know… stating the obvious is something of a gift.
McLaren’s approach is to ask some questions concerning the Christian faith that he feels have been inadequately answered. They aren’t your typical apologetics type questions (well maybe a couple of them are) from the skeptical outsider’s point-of-view, but rather they are the nagging doubts posed from someone inside the faith. And while someday I might get around to discussing where I don’t see eye-to-eye with McLaren, today I’m affirming that these are vital questions with which the people of God need to wrestle.
He has something like ten questions, and you can look at them for yourselves. Here’s my take on what the critical issues are that he’s addressing:
1) How are we to understand the Bible? This question further breaks down into a couple other questions…
What is its essential message? His contention is that the church pretty much for the last 1700 years or so has gotten it all wrong.
In what sense is it the “Word of God?” Is it “inerrant?” In what way is it authoritative? And so on…
2) How are we to understand God? Of course since the Christian’s understanding of God is based (even if sometimes only loosely) on the Scriptures, one can see how important the first question is for answering the this one. He grasps with both hands the thorny issue of God’s violent nature as portrayed particularly in certain sections of the Old Testament. Having spent the first few months of the year in those places, I can certainly sympathize with his attempts to come to terms with that… even if I don’t necessarily agree with where he lands.
3) How are we to understand Jesus? Again, tied closely to both questions that come before. Here, he’s attempting to move away from the fairly one-dimensional figure that typically gets put forward. He’s not just some cosmic super-hero, but a living person who would have breathed the air of 1st century Palestine. All of which leads to the next question…
4) How are we to understand the Gospel? By now, you won’t be surprised to hear that he doesn’t really buy into what I’ve sometimes heard described as the “Four Happy Hops to Heaven.”
From here, the conversations spills into discussions about what does all this mean for the church, ethics, mission, etc… But these first few questions are at (at least in my opinion) the heart of the matter. And here’s the kicker, he’s right. These are the issues that lie at the core of the Christian faith… God as revealed in Christ (and therefore Scripture) necessitates a response on our part. And how we respond is the watershed decision for how we go about the rest of our lives. And I find myself agreeing with him that some of the ways these questions have and are continuing to be answered aren’t satisfying any longer.
Yet, while I agree that these are the questions that need to be asked, where I part ways with McLaren is over the answers. He seems to be saying, “all the old answers are junk and we need consign them to the trash heap.” While I would probably join most others who think about this sort of stuff and say, “the old answers need to be re-looked, updated, and expanded upon, but they aren’t necessarily total crap.” The old “baby and bathwater” thing.
Ok, well I’m starting to venture into what I’m hoping will be a third post on the book, but let me say loud and clear again… I applaud McLaren for raising the issues that I think demand our attention. These questions matter and so do our responses.