by Brian McLaren
Convergent Books, New York. 288 pages
Reviewed by Mary Graves
Once again, Brian McLaren has used the fodder of his own spiritual pilgrimage to provide practical insights for the American church in crisis.
I feel like I need to warn you that he is so effective in describing the lamentable state of the church and our suicidal world that the book can be quite depressing – except that he presents a concrete plan. I found his assessment pretty accurate. Today, millions of us share something that we seldom verbalize: We’re worried that the “brand” of Christianity has been so compromised that many of us are barely able to use the label anymore. Then he describes three ways that has happened and what we can do about it.
The first has to do with the church being overly preoccupied with belief systems instead of a way of life that looks like Jesus. Much of the book’s first section is a review of his own movement from Christian fundamentalism to a crisis of faith that almost took him out of Christian ministry. But a deeper look at Jesus revealed his emphasis on doing God’s will instead of creating belief systems – and McLaren’s Christianity was re-born. What would happen, he wonders, if we spent most of our energy teaching a love curriculum in our congregations?
Part of the book focuses on considering the church as “a school of love” that focuses on teaching four loves: love of neighbor, love of self, love of creation and love of God. It all seems especially timely. McLaren then moves to an even more serious malady facing the church: our belief in a violent God who actually sanctions genocide. This section alone is worth the price of the book, because he provides important historical data on why the church needs to repent of our violent history. The heart of this repentance depends on a better way of interpreting Scripture, for which he provides a detailed spreadsheet.
The final section of his book broadens our horizon from church to the suicidal state of the world. He describes how church communities have been “chaplaincies to this destructive” system. The invitation in this section is to move into partnership with other faiths to address the dire straits we are in instead of competing with them. I appreciate how collaborative McLaren is with leaders and resources from many faith traditions.
This book is set up well for a small discussion group and provides a helpful guide at the end of each chapter for “contemplation, conversation and action.” I particularly liked the suggested action to read 1 Corinthians 13 every day – one powerful exercise in one powerful book.
Mary Graves is senior pastor and spiritual director at Trinity Presbyterian Church in San Carlos, California.