Thursday, June 15, 2006

Review: A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren

I just finished reading A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren. I know, I know, I'm way behind the buzz on this book, and Brian McLaren in general. It took me a while to get interested, and then a while to get to reading it.

I wasn't sure what to think about the half-story, half-non-fiction approach to the book. I guess I liked it better than I might reading all of these ideas in a straight non-fiction book, but it was weird to read a not-novel masquerading as novel. I can't help investing in the characters when I'm reading a novel, and these weren't exactly regular characters. At the end of the book, I can't help but think: What happened to Neo? Also, Neo was a little "too cool" for me. A little too messiah-figure-esque. But, I guess when you are talking about systems and paradigms, modernism and post-modernism and beyond, if you actually talk to much about the thing, you miss the point, if that makes sense. So maybe the style of the book helps not miss the point!?!

As for content, I agreed with a lot of what McLaren had to say. McLaren is upfront in his introduction about his probably audience, and as what is classified definitely more as a "liberal Protestant" (his label) than evangelical, I'm not it. I did indeed sometimes feel like McLaren was making arguments/propositions that I feel are already widely accepted in "liberal Protestant" circles. But he still challenges, and I mostly enjoyed the read. For starters, I think many pastors (at least myself) can relate to the character Daniel's sense of being overwhelmed, feeling like he has no new avenues to explore in ministry, fed up with some of the day to day details, etc. His 'burn out' factor is easy to relate to (eek, perhaps I shouldn't say that only two weeks after ordination!!)

I loved the imagery, even if overused in the book, about the line on the ground, but Jesus seeking to bring things to a level higher up than "this side" or "that side" of the line, a level in the space, the sphere, above the rest of it. (pg. 47) I loved Ruth's comment about having to switch between modern and post-modern existence depending on where you are. (pg. 44) I liked McLaren's understanding of the Bible, woven throughout the book, especially his analogy of the math book: "Think of a math book . . . is it valuable because it has the answers in the back? No, it's valuable because by working through it, by doing the problems, by struggling with it, you become a wiser person, a person capable of solving problems and building bridges . . ." (pg. 53) I loved the passage where Neo says that we often act as if the verse from John says "Jesus is in they way" instead of "Jesus is the way." (pg. 65) And I'm with Brian/Neo on the fact that for Jesus, "gospel" or "good news" didn't mean "accept[ing] Christ as your personal savior" but "The Kingdom of God is at hand." (pg. 105-106) For the most part, though, these were things that I thought already, pre-reading.

The challenge, I think, which McLaren addresses somewhat in the last section of the book, in e-mails between Neo and a young pastor, is how to put these ideas into practice. These ideas, these thoughts, this movement - once you say, "but give me an example!" - it's hard to say, "do it like this," without boxing it in and missing the point. But without examples, it's hard to imagine what a "new kind of Christian" community might actually look like. How do you live into it? How can a whole community of people live into it?

Worth a read. Now I can finally get to McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus, which has been sitting around for a bit...
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