Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a fan of Brian McLaren. I am not sure I buy into every single thing he says (how could I?), but I do like his writings. And I have been privileged enough to get to know him personally over a number of years, and am even more impressed at his humility, his grace and his desire to learn from others. He is eminently teachable, exceptionally approachable and a remarkable Christ-follower.
Brian’s latest book has just been released. It’s called, “A New Kind of Christianity”, and chatting to him about it, he feels this book is one of his best contributions so far. I have had it on pre-order with Amazon.co.uk, and due to some technical issue between Hodder and Amazon, it has not yet been supplied to Amazon.co.uk. But you can order it through Eden.co.uk, pre-order at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net (in South Africa).
Brian’s goal with this book is to deal with ten key issues that are blocking discussions and engagement both within Christianity, and those looking in at Christianity. He wants to help us to deal with these fundamental issues, so we can build a platform for further discussions on some of the details that threaten to divide our churches today. From what I can tell, he has succeeded in getting the discussions going. I have listed the ten questions below. Whether you agree with Brian’s answers and analysis or not, his questions are really good ones, and need to be dealt with.
I hope that fans and critics alike will engage with the content of his book, and not deal in personal attack and ranting rhetoric. What do you think of his questions? How would you answer them? How does that help you think more deeply about your own Christian faith?
FROM BRIAN MCLAREN: In A New Kind of Christianity, I try to identify 10 particularly important and animating questions for us to grapple with in the next decade or two. Here are brief introductions to each question.
1. The Narrative Question: What is the shape – or storyline or plotline – of the biblical narrative? What is the Bible about? What problem is it trying to solve? What are the essential conflicts and projects that move the story along?
2. The Authority Question: What does it mean to say the Bible has authority? How is its authority expressed? How has the Bible’s authority been misused in the past? How can we more wisely understand and apply the Bible’s authority in the future?
3. The God Question: Is God violent? Does God make innocent people suffer? Or is God purely just, kind, and compassionate? If so, how do we deal with the passages in the Bible where God sanctions mass slaughter?
4. The Jesus Question: Who is Jesus and why is he so important? Why do Christians present such different visions or versions of Jesus? How do we sort through the different versions to get a more balanced and accurate understanding of Jesus?
5. The Gospel Question: What is the core message of the Christian faith? Is it exclusively about heaven and hell after death, or primarily about justice, peace, and joy on earth? Are the gospels of Jesus and Paul the same, or opposed to one another? Is the gospel good news for a few, or for all people?
6. The Church Question: What do we do about the church? What future should our local congregations, our denominations, and the Christian community at large pursue? What are our primary, essential functions? How will we cope with the many changes we face?
7. The Sex Question: Why has homosexuality become such a divisive issue? How can we engage with sexual orientation – and many other issues of human sexuality – without continuing to fight angrily and divide bitterly? Can we move beyond paralyzing polarization to constructive dialogue?
8. The Future Question: What is our vision of the future? The world getting worse and worse until God destroys and replaces it? Better and better until it’s perfect? How do our views of the future affect our behavior in the present? Are there fresh and better options for Christian eschatology?
9. The Pluralism Question: How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions? Is Jesus the only way – and the only way to what? Can we have both a strong sense of Christian identity – and a strong sense of hospitality and love toward people of other faiths?
10. The What-Do-We-Do-Now Question: How can we open these questions without creating needless controversy and division? How can we move forward in our quest without being intimidated by the resistance that will no doubt arise? What attitudes and understandings can help us move forward in a creative, loving way?
As you can see, these aren’t just esoteric questions for seminary classrooms. Depending on our answers to these questions, we will continue killing each other or work more passionately for peace; condemn and divide or dialogue and understand; care for the earth or exploit and abandon it; clench our fists or open our hands; walk in the way of love or run in the way of fear. There may be a need for a new kind of Islam, a new kind of Judaism, and even a new kind of atheism (newer than the so-called “new atheism”), but that will primarily be the task of people working within each of those traditions. My calling – and the quest that growing numbers of us are pursuing together – is a new kind of Christianity, a faith shaped by powerful questions that awaken our thirst for truth and that beckon us forward as followers of Jesus with a lot to learn, explore, and discover. Perhaps this quest will win your heart as well.
So, what do you think?