In the interest of full disclosure, I have a confession to make: I am a fan. I consider Brian McLaren to be a genius if not the Martin Luther of the 21st Century Church. Members of the congregation I serve credit McLaren with keeping them in the church when they were ready to jump ship.
In his newest book, A New Kind of Christianity, like his other more recent books, McLaren acknowledges that he is considered dangerous by some believers because his theology crosses established doctrinal boundaries. On the other end of the theological spectrum, some mainline Christians, who have long connected their theology with social justice, consider his ideas dated. Many Mainliners shrugged when they read Everything Must Change, his book on global systems.
But A New Kind of Christianity – McLaren’s latest attempt to clarify why the church is changing and must change – sheds light on the process through which we must understand these changes. We lifelong church people and professional ministers who find ourselves preoccupied with institutional maintenance will recognize the joys and frustrations of trying to live out our faith within the walls of organized religion. McLaren acknowledges that not everyone wants to join the quest for a new kind of Christianity, but those of us who do need to ask ourselves ten questions in order to clarify who we are, what we believe, and how we will go forth as God’s people.
McLaren’s questions require delving into our basic theological beliefs. For example, Question One is “What is the Overarching Story Line of the Bible?” Do we read the Bible backwards through the lens of Paul and the church fathers and mothers of our various traditions? Or do we read the Bible from Adam forward? Do we study Scripture with a sense that we are becoming the people of God who follow Jesus? Or have we parked ourselves in one theological spot, according to denominational traditions and doctrines, refusing to let the Spirit continue to move us?
The other questions we must ask ourselves include such topics as the nature of God, the Church, that ubiquitous issue of sex, and interfaith relationships. Clearly McLaren loves the church and longs for us to explore these questions in spiritual community, unafraid of where our quest will lead.
As always, McLaren’s hopes for the church inspire and refresh in a voice that is compassionate and articulate and, I believe, faithful. Rather than feeling overwhelmed, A New Kind of Christianity motivates those of us who love the church to keep going, keep talking, keep anticipating the birth of a new way of being the church.
JAN EDMISTON is pastor of Fairlington Church in Alexandria, Va., and blogs at A Church for Starving Artists.