Sunday, May 31, 2009

Radical Christian: a Redundancy?

Thoughts while reading "Everything Must Change" by Brian McLaren

Often when I return home I discover that a new interesting book has appeared in the house, usually as one of my dad's current reads. This time I decided to read Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren.

I have been rather disappointed by this book so far. One frustrating part is my question of who he thinks "conventional Christians", as he dubs them, really are. Linked to this is my question of audience. In chapter 10 he contrasts the "conventional" and "emerging" views by summarizing the gospel from the two perspectives. The words he puts into the mouths of the "conventional" Christians are often mocking. He essentially says they reduce the gospel into some sort of platonic but personal thing which "produces a happier life" and saves the sinner from hell. This is of course contrasted to the "emergent" view, which allows for a much fuller reading of the whole bible.

Merriam-Webster defines conventional as "formed by agreement or compact". I think most theologians and Christian thinkers would disagree with McLaren's summary of the conventional views. Doesn't this make them unconventional? Perhaps McLaren should have said "popular"?

Word choice aside, all this talk confuses me about his audience. I have three questions: 1) If McLaren is writing to "conventional" Christians (assuming such people do exist), why insult them? 2) Would such people care enough to read all 300 pages of his book in the first place? 3) If he is not writing to these people, but instead writing to those who really do want to understand the working of God and of the church in our hurting world now, in the present, what purpose does such a sloppy (in my view) comparison serve?

It seems that McLaren is trying to show how radically different this "emerging" view is. The trouble is, all my experience so far shows me that the bible itself is a radical book. Anyone who has read the gospels recently will tell you that. For centuries, people in the church have understood this. St. Francis stripped off all his clothes to reject worldly values and then he preached to the birds (among other things). Corrie Ten Boon and many others like her forgave. Many have given their lives in service to the poor. C.S. Lewis said Aslan is not a tame lion. God is not tame, and most of those who follow at some cost him have found this out.

Yes, the good news is about personal salvation through Christ's death on the cross. But anyone who has been reading their bible can tell you that it is about so much more! Jesus himself claimed part of God's mission "of good news to the poor", to bring "freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind and to set the oppressed free" (Luke 4:18) And that is just the beginning. I think McLaren is saying all this. I just don't think that what he is saying is as new and different as he is suggesting.

I realize have given a rather negative impression. I am convinced he does have some worthwhile things to say even if I don't always agree with his views or method, so I will continue reading and hopefully give a better report in the near future.

1 comment:

  1. I've actually been meaning to read McLaren and some of the other Emerging church stuff...maybe I can this summer and join in on your musings. :)

    On the other side of the pendulum, I'm a fan of Mark Driscoll (altho' he too can offend by his manner). I've heard good things about a book called something to the effect of "Why we aren't emergent, by two guys who probably should be." My friend read it and liked that's also on my list. Anyways. In regards to your post, without having read McLaren, it seems that he's playing a little with semantics and changing definitions. Every Christian ought to be radical; any Christian who allows him or herself to be exposed to the Spirit-transforming power of the word of God should be. A new ideology is not what is needed to get us more 'radical,' it's rather an honest return to the things of God as revealed in His word. And I think, from what I've heard, McLaren has too small a view of Christ's redeeming sacrifice on the cross. It is not as if we compartmentalize the atonement from other aspects of Christian life: the removal of our guilt and entrance into relationship with the Living God is what infuses, empowers and equips us in all the restorative ministries and works of healing and freedom that God has given us!

    Okay...I must stop rambling. But good post my friend--good food for thought and fuel for discussion. I want to go read that book now! ;)