Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"A New Kind of Christianity" review part 2: Greco-Roman fridge repair and loud farts

As I have now finished McLaren's

"A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith,"

.. and believe it is in several senses his most important book yet........
here is a follow up to my first post (here) and kind of
a walk-through review of Book One of the book.

Let me say that even though I may not eventually follow everywhere it leads, I love the book, and think it is a vital read for anyone one wants to "get" the current (click each phrase to see who has coined each phrase)"weird moment is history"/ Deep Shift //Reorientation/Great Emergence/3rd Reformation/4th Great Awakening/4th Rummage Sale"/New Kind of Christianity"....which in the end (literally: p. 255) McLaren clearly admits is not truly something new, but something quite ancient which is finally re-emerging..for those brave enough to run with it.

If you'd like to be such a runner, or are just brave and Christian enough to test it out, the new McLaren book should be read in tandem with Wolfgang Simson's "Houses That Change The World," Tony Jones' "The New Christians," Phyllis Tickles' The Great Emergence" ...and pick at least one of Len Sweet's books, please.
"New Kind" has been called everything from called the first Systematic Theology of the Emerging Church to an evil missive from a son of Lucifer.

It's not either, but much closer to the first (:

The basic ideas are that he six line narrative; "what we call the biblical story line isn't the shape of the story of Adam, Abraham, and their Jewish descendants. It's the shape of the...Greco-Roman narrative"(37); and that we have read the Bible wrongly through a constitutional lens rather than viewed it as a "community library."

What this means and implies is not small news, it is the good news that we have missed via our "adventures in missing the point" (to reference another McLaren title).

For those of us trained in the West, this changes as much as everything.

As the Fly once told us, "Everything you know is wrong."
But remember said Fly emerged later (at a Christian festival, no less, with a reconstructive "Everything you know is right."
We live in the weird and wonderful times in between those two prophetic proclamations.
It's a new kind of day.

A few thoughts regarding the book in general, and then onto Book One.

On a practical and positive note:
Often at the beginning of a chapter, transition statements and summaries are quite helpful.

Also, for some reason,and to my surprise, book one to me was twice as thoughtful, exhiliriating and rewarding as Book Two (the practical "so what do we do now" section)...though some sections of the second book ( exegesis of John 14's "prepare a place for you," and the Chapter 21 suggestions for those seeking to become change agents, are hugely helpful.

I am not sure why this is; perhaps the call to reorient our worldview and narrative; to betray our blinders and bibliolatry is so crucial and fundamental that we still must spend (too much) time and deconstruction there. Then again, "nothing is more practical than theory."

One minor annoyance: the cute coupling of phrases like "shrinking, wrinkling," translation/ transition," "stealthy and wealthy" became a bit to distracting after awhile...and these examples are just from the first ten pages! But he is an English professor, and I do the same thing in a much cheesier way!

On to some highlights and commentary from each section.


This quote nails the"re-forming" times we have been given:

Paradigms and dogma can be defended and enforced with guns and prisons, bullets and bonfires, threats and humiliations, fatwas and excommunications. But paradigms and dogmas remain profoundly vulnerable when anomalies are present. They can be undone by something as simple as a question. (16)

Too bad American evangelicals have been taught that questions are never part of the answer!!


If it is at all possible that we have been seduced and hijacked by the Greco-Roman six points, we must be willing to at least ask and pray if such is so.

Most of us inevitably and unquestioningly (the heart of the problem, this refusal to even ask questions about everything we have inherited) read and wrestle with the Bible as one particular story line with six sections: 1) Eden/perfection), 2) Fall, 3) History/condemnation, 4) offering of salvation, 5) heaven/return to perfection or 6) hell/eternal punishment.

So first of all, can we ask, is this six-line metasermon really there?


Does it contribute to a higher vision of God, a deeper engagement with Christ, a more profound experience of the Holy Spirit? Does it motivate us to love God, neighbor, stranger, and enemy more wholeheartedly?
If not, how does Scripture shape iteslf? What if instead of reading church history backwards through Luther, Augustine, et al, we went back to the beginning and followed the flow?
What if we started not with our inherited Greco-Roman glasses, but with the eyes of the father of faith, Abram?

In this video, McLaren draws (in the sand, no less. The critics will inevitably ask, "Who does he think he is: Jesus?") a version of the six-sectioned narrative he draws in the book, and offers a more biblical

Now hang on as we fill in the new (old) narrative:

"But Genesis is, in many ways, not the main story of the Hebrew Sriptures. It is more like a the prime narrative...which comes to us in Exodus (56)..

This so dovetailed with a section in Ray Anderson's (ahead of his time) book, "The Soul of Ministry," that I must bring it into the conversation:

"Where is the theological beginning point of the Old Testament?" I asked a group of pastors...I received a variety of answers, with Genesis the most cited. "No," I replied, "I want the theological beginnimg poimt, not the htonologiacl.

"Exodus," someone shouted out, and we were off and running.

Exodus precedes Genesis in the same way that knowledge of God as Redeemer precedes knowledge of God as Creator.
-Anderson, p. 6

McLaren makes the case that Genesis is creation/reconciliation, and Exodus liberation/formation (66)....but the latter is ultimately of foremost import.
So much so that even "[in John], Genesis themes are strong, but Exodus themes are stronger. (131).

The third part of the biblical narrative, then is the sequel to the primary (Exodus), just as the first narrative (Genesis) is its prequel. The third narrative being "the sacred dream of the peaceable kingdom."

Are we in sync then with the Greco-Roman six line narrative or 3D Jewish narrative of the "world of God as creator, liberator and reconciler" (66)?

Part of our problem, as McLaren has previously taught, is that we love static "states."
McLaren doesn't draw this out fully, but "state" here, stands for state as staticness (which physics helps us debunk, as well as state as "empire." The first reformation produced a state, but this current reformation is about a quest.

"At this moment in history, we need something more radical and transformative than a new state, we need a new quest..more than a new static location,we need a new dynamic direction" (17)

"The Lord has little taste for states." (48), so we are called to move from state to story.

And from a "constitutional" view of the Bible to a view of it as a dynamic, Jewish, three-dimensional "community library." Here is where McLaren reminds us of everything we know intuitively, but have not been allowed to admit under reigning views of infallibility: the Bible is a lively collection of genres, and each had their own context. He uses the Book of Job as a case study; seeing Job as a fractal (93) and microcosm for all of Scripture, and Scripture's many voices.

Isn't it amazing that in Job itself, "God himself has "told us that a large proportion of what is uttered in the book of Job [by Job's friends] is false and foolish (89), but we continue to be formed by the G-C narrative, a constitutional paradigm, and the eisegesis of radio-orthodoxy,
and preach from all parts of Job as if they are the unified words of God.

Job, then, is a helpful model of the whole Bible, and that narrative, authority and revelation in a s a sense emerge out of the honest, unedited library, and "conversation " of Scripture itself.
For those we see McLaren as dogmatic and dangerous here:

Perhaps the approach I am recommending is no better..But here's what I hope; that this approach will not try to put us under the text, as conservatives tend to do, or lift us over it, as liberals often seem to do. Instead, I hope it will try to put is in the text, in the the Spirit, in the community of people who keep bumping into God...even now.

And for those who have him a hellbound hellhound, hear how Christ-centered he is.

Mike Morrell's corrective:

One of the things I appreciate the most about Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity is its refreshing Christ-centeredness.
Mike quotes the book:

The Quaker scholar Elton Trueblood approached the Bible this way. One of Trueblood’s students told me that he often heard his mentor say something like this: “The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.” In other words, the doctrines of the incarnation and deity of Christ are meant to tell us that we cannot start with a pre-determined, set-in-stone idea of God derived from the rest of the Bible, and then extend that to Jesus. Jesus is not intended merely to fit into those pre-determined categories; he is intended instead to explode them, transform them, alter them forever and bring us to a new evolutionary level in our understanding of God. An old definition of God does not define Jesus: the experience of God in Jesus requires a new brand definition or understanding of God.
Trueblood’s insight, in my opinion, is the best single reason to be identified as a believer in Jesus, and it is an unspeakably precious gift that can be offered to people of all faiths. The character of Jesus, we proclaim, provides humanity with a unique and indispensable guide for tracing the development of maturing images and concepts of God across human history and culture. It is the North Star, if you will, to aid all people, whatever their religious background, in their theological pilgrimage. The images of God that most resemble Jesus – whether they originate in the Bible or elsewhere – are the more mature and complete images, and the ones less similar to the character of Jesus would be the more embryonic and incomplete – even though they may be celebrated for being better than the less complete images they replaced.
This is why we cannot simply say that the highest revelation of God is given through the Bible (especially the Bible read as a constitution, or cut and pasted to fit in the Greco-Roman six-line narrative). Rather, we can say that, for Christians, the Bible’s highest value is in revealing Jesus, who gives us the highest, deepest, and most mature view of the character of the living God.
- A New Kind of Christianity, pages 114-115

In fact, if he has a potential fault, it might be that in over-correcting from Greco-Romanism and bibliolatry, he can push us to center too much on Christ (gasp)..

when our true center is even bigger than Jesus.
(see Len's post, and mine, on this topic relative to Alan Hirsch)

Which leads us to next section, reminding us it is ultimately all about:


Next blog post, that is..

But here's a good summary and preview:
"A linear prose argument may be the best way to teach engineering or refigerator repair, but to teach matters of the spirit, literary forms work better--with all their twists and turns and circlings and returns and refrains, their imagination and provocation, their soina and sneakiness...He throws down metaphor after jolt the imagination"

Ahh, that's what we fear.... Eugene Peterson:
"metaphor is a loud fart int he salon of spirituality,"

Next time:



...and some shocking video by perhaps the biggest heretic of our day (Hint: it's not McLaren...but maybe another Mc..maybe a Mac..)


  1. I am still working through another McLaren book, but only because I have to stop and mull things over. I have discovered that so much of my own belief system was not built on Jesus at all but on many Christian teachers' views of what the Bible says. I spend so much time knocking down walls of my mind that have distorted who Jesus is.

    Great information Dave. Very thought provoking stuff!

    - Michelle

  2. I just discovered your word press review today via viral bloggers, while I was engaged in a discussion about Brian's new book - - Actually, it is a book review section, but not having read the book yet, I find that your efforts have succeeded in wetting my appetite for it. Thanks, Eric.

  3. Awesome, Broap! keep up the great work.
    Let me know when you have a review up.


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!