Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reading through A New Kind of Christianity

I'm reading A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren. Brian's writing has really spoken to me over the years. I remember the first time I heard of him--it was actually the first time I met him. He was speaking at my first Leland retreat in 2002. I was drawn to his gentle spirit, his passion for God, his honesty.

We have connected several times over the years, and I am always encouraged by his words; both in print and in our conversations. Several years ago we had a conversation at a church where we happened to run into each other. We were talking about something--I don't remember the topic now--but his eyes lit up at something I said and he opened his Bible and read a passage that spoke to that topic. His love for Jesus and people was obvious.

Brian doesn't need me to defend him; but I realize that by identifying myself with him, I may need to defend both of us to people who see him in a negative light. One of the images that often gets used by Brian's critics is the "wolf in sheep's clothing" label.

You may not agree with Brian (I don't always agree with him), but he is nothing like a wolf. He is a gentle, humble man who strives to be faithful to Jesus. And the more I read the Bible, and pray, and get to know my Savior, the more Brian's ideas ring true to me. A New Kind of Christian was life-changing for me, as well as many others.

I'm not going to review the book, but share some passages that speak to me and cause me to think as I read it. I really like the discussion of how we often view the Bible as a constitution (which I have never believed it was meant to be seen), rather than as an "inspired library." That makes a lot of sense to me. Here goes:

The Bible, when taken as an ethical rule book, offers us no clear categories for many of our most significant and vexing socio-ethical quandaries. We find no explicit mention, for example, of abortion, capitalism, communism, socialism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism, systemic racism, affirmative action, human rights, nationalism, sexual orientation, pornography, global climate change, imprisonment, extinction of species, energy efficiency, environmental sustainability, genetic engineering, space travel, and so on—not to mention nuclear weapons, biological warfare, and just-war theory.
(p. 68-69)

This doesn't mean that the Bible doesn't or can't speak to this topics. But it does mean that any conclusions we draw about about God's perspective on these topics (and many others) are filtered through our own thoughts, biases, presuppositions, desires, understandings and interpretations.

In case after case in the past, there is a kind of Bible-quoting intoxication under the influence of which we religious people lose the ability to distinguish between what God says and what we say God says.
(p. 70)

We must have some humility and open-mindedness to be faithful. We can't become so arrogant that we are convinced our perspective is the absolute truth, and everyone else has it wrong.

I recently read a quote by a big name pastor and author in evangelistic circles. Speaking of C.S. Lewis, he said, "
...there is no one quite like him. He does so much good and gets some things so wrong." He's basically saying that when he agrees with Lewis, Lewis is great; but when they disagree, Lewis must be the one who is wrong. That kind of arrogant self-confidence is dangerous. It's OK to disagree, but none of us are always right. Teachability is crucial for growth.

We are not all going to draw the same conclusions, and we must be careful not to be so rigid that we don't allow ourselves to learn and grow and evolve. Yes, I said it; our faith must evolve, as our relationship with and understanding of God grow.

As my faith has evolved, I feel less certain about some things, but more convinced of others. I am more convinced that God loves us and longs to live in intimate relationship with us. I am more convinced that God is working to establish His Kingdom more and more in our world. I am more convinced that nothing is more powerful or wide or deep as God's love.

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