A New Kind of Christian(ity) – Part 1

by MW Cook

I’ve put this off for a while.

When I arrived back in Canada two years ago, my conservative circles were abuzz with a new heretic. When I left it was people like Gregory Boyd and Clark Pinnock. Suddenly there was a new kid on the block: Brian McLaren. And instead of talking about Open Theism, everyone was talking about Post-Modernism and the Emergent Church. I, of course, had no clue about any of it, so I kept my mouth shut.

It was Al Mohler who got me interested. He posted a video of him and a few buddies spending an hour talking about McLaren. They called him harsh things. “The slyest snake in the garden and the son of his father the devil” is the one that sticks in my head. And let’s be honest, folks, after an intro like that I felt I had no choice but to buy his book!

I got A New Kind of Christian. I read it. My heart sank. It’s a novel about a confused pastor who has eye-opening talks with a university professor. McLaren uses the plot to test and showcase the way he’s looking at where Christianity is going. My heart sank, not because it was full of filth and heresy. But because it’s the kind of novel I could have written myself. Trite characters and shallow plot lines and all.

So I found out the book that earned McLaren the title ‘son of the devil’ was not actually A New Kind of Christian but A New Kind of Christianity. “Ah ha!” I thought. “He wasn’t much of a devil back in 2001, but now, with the new book in 2010, he must have crossed the line!

But, while there were certainly less things McLaren was able to convince me of in the new book, I still found him insightful. Profound where he was right, and insightful in at least pointing out the problem where he was wrong.

A great deal of what was in those books I already held to.

I had already been convinced that Jesus’ mission was much, much more than the simple fire escape for people who prayed the sinner’s prayer. It was to set in motion the redemption of the entire created order. Too long have we settled for getting ‘saved’ and living the rest of our days separated from outsiders in our ivory towers. The world is busted and it’s our job to fix it, from top to bottom, here and now.

I had already been convinced that there is far too much demonizing in the church. We pull facts from the Bible, arbitrarily set certain ones up as foundational and verbally condemn to hell the people who question them.

I had already been convinced that people can disagree with things that the fundamentalist world calls foundational and still be vibrant, life-filled followers of Jesus. I may disagree with folks who believe in evolution or disbelieve in an eternal hell. But they can still follow Jesus and be a part of the kingdom of God just as much as a more orthodox person. And it’s not just because they have a case for their views (and they do have a case). It’s because those things are not the things Jesus came to die and live for.

I had already been convinced that the true Jesus life was something higher than our churches and theologies and arguments and preachings. McLaren was able to express it much better than I could. And so I’m thankful for that.

In two days the second half of this review will be up. It’s already written, I just didn’t like the idea of a thousand-word blog post. My views on these books become more controversial in the next post. So if you’re hoping to comment, maybe waiting until the next installment is a good idea.