There were a lot of things that I hadn’t considered about the Jesus life before reading these books.
First, and perhaps most foundational, I was convinced that our way of looking at the Bible is wrong. McLaren argues that the Bible is not a constitution, answer-book, love letter from God or instruction book for life. And he’s right. It’s a divinely-inspired library of God’s dealings with man. To view it as a constitution is dishonest and, it seems to me, just as bad as the way liberal scholars view it as a dead scholastic work.
Second, I was convinced that his model of Christian education is far better than the models we have been working with so far. Our models focus on knowledge as paramount. Jesus’ school focused on living with and following Jesus. On doing things, not just learning things. If you have A New Kind of Christian you can check out his view of seminary starting on pg. 232.
I was convinced that, generally, instead of looking straight at Jesus in the Bible, we look a Jesus first through the lens of Paul. And we look at Paul through the lens of Augustine. And we look at Augustine through the lens of Aquinas. And we look at Aquinas through the lens of Luther or Erasmus, depending on where our denomination lies. And down the line until we get to whatever preacher is our hero today. And I was convinced that this was a very, very bad thing.
In short, I do not call these writings dangerous. I call them helpful. I call them insightful. I call them off-base here and there, but not dangerous. Not damning. Not worth calling someone a son of the devil.
Would I recommend the books? To some people. Not all. The problem with books by famous people is that there will always be a large group of people who only pick up a book in order to discredit it. They have the attitude that says “I am going to put down this book with the same beliefs I had when I picked it up.” So I could not, with a clear conscience, recommend these books to people who think this way. It would be a waste. It would do nothing but create more bad feelings. And the Christian community has enough bad feelings already. But for anyone else, for anyone with a mind to learn and a heart to move forward in their understanding of Jesus, for those people I say “Don’t be afraid of these books. They won’t hurt you. Use your mind as you read them. Take profit from the things you judge as true. Toss out the things you judge as false. Don’t be distracted by the things that don’t matter. You’re clever enough to do that. You don’t need to be afraid of being put under an evil magic spell.”
I get that a lot of folks will disagree with me. That’s fine. I’m betting the coming comment discussion will be informative for everyone.
It’s funny, though. One of the accusations that people who don’t hate McLaren and the Emergent conversation get is that they are trying too hard to be politically correct. But, in the circles I have grown up in and still live in, the most politically incorrect thing I can do mention these books without condemning them.