In his latest and 12th book, A New Kind of Christianity, McLaren outlines 10 questions he believes churches should explore.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
N.N: What do you hope to accomplish with this new book?
B.M.: I’m hoping to provide a point of conversation and contact for evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Roman Catholics. In spite of our many differences, we’re all struggling with declining attendance and a sense that younger people are losing confidence in the moral authority of our churches.
N.N.: Does your new Christianity still maintain distinct branches and rules, or do you envision more of an umbrella group?
B.M.: I hope we maintain the rich diversity of our heritages; I don’t think the world would be better off if all restaurants were McDonald’s. But, I think it would be a good thing if across our traditions, there was a lot more learning and sharing of treasures and insights, and a lot more collaboration for the common good.
N.N.: Critics accuse you of watering down Scripture and tradition in your efforts to reach out to young, progressive Christians. What is your response?
B.M.: I’m not trying to get everybody to agree with me on every detail, but I’m trying to raise questions that I think need to be raised. And I’m trying to model a respectful way of engaging with people who disagree with me. In a lot of our faith communities, that’s very hard to do.
N.N.: How is what you preach different from previous progressive movements?
B.M.: There are a lot of continuities with the past, but I’m proposing a different way of looking at the Biblical narrative — what is the meaning of Jesus’ death and cross? For a lot of people, that question is answered only in terms of a kind of transaction where God is paying for our sins. I’m suggesting that there’s also an important dimension to the cross relating to the use of power: God is manifested not in the torturers, but in the victims.
If I believe that God somehow sanctions and even requires torture and killing, it’s easier to go in that direction as a nation. But if I believe God’s bias is towards nonviolence and bringing reconciliation and victory, then we can’t allow ourselves to reduce human beings to something subhuman.
N.N.: You speak out against Christian Zionism, the belief that Christians must support Israel because of a Biblical prophecy concerning the return of Jesus. Why do you feel so strongly about that?
B.M.: The most likely path to nuclear war is growing tension between Muslims, Christians, and Jews, so for anyone who’s interested in peace, we have to look at the issue of Israel and Palestine. Sadly, the Christian Zionist approach gives carte blanche to the Israeli government and denies any legitimate chance for justice for the Palestinians. …
We can make decision(s) that will either give Palestinians a similar kind of future, or we can learn from our past mistakes and help them have a better future, along with their neighbor Israel.
N.N.: What are your future plans?
B.M.: In May, I’m going to a gathering of young Christian leaders in East Africa. I’m always trying to encourage emerging leaders to make their faith their own, and to deal with the problems of their generation.
We’re at a unique moment in history because we have this convergence of global crises: the planet, poverty, peace, and pluralism. The sad thing is that very often our faith communities are just making things worse. I hope that a new kind of Christianity would become a real positive, constructive player.