Tuesday, February 23, 2010

“A new kind of Christianity” Brian McLaren--part two

Book Two (Questions 6 – 10)

As Brian leaves his larges themes of Book One where he seeks to unlock and open the doors of the captivity we may be feeling, he moves into Book Two where we are invited to emerge and explore some specific concerns..
He continues to visit the first 5 framing questions as he illustrates how our long-held understandings affect our responses to these final 5 questions—and I am gaining a deeper understanding of Greco-Romanism, dualism, Plate, and Aristotle! It's making more sense every time it comes up.

Question 6, the Church question. What do we do about the church?
First up is the church. A valid question since the church as we know it is pretty much built on centuries of the patterns and systems Brian spent Book One analyzing and deconstructing. He correctly identifies the need to start over starting with “...this one goal of forming Christlike people, people who live in the way of love, the way of peacemaking, the way of the kingdom of God, the way of Jesus, the way of the Spirit.” “...to create a new future of the church as a school of love—which means a school of listening, dialogue, appreciative inquiry, understanding, preemptive peacemaking, reconciliation, nonviolence, prophetic confrontation, advocacy, generosity, and personal and social transformation.”
This isn't particularly new to those of us who have been rethinking church for awhile. But it really fits with the paradigm shifts of the first 5 questions. And it really fits with me. It gives me a spark of hope that this could actually come to pass.

Question 7, the Sex question. Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
As is usually the case, McLaren casts a broader net than might be expected in this question than just the question of homosexuality. When he approaches sexuality, he reasons solidly from his provisional five- (now six-) cornered foundation. (Keep in mind that although he has spent much time developing a new framework, he is open to discussion and modification.) Each of the preceding questions and responses has an important bearing on this one. He doesn't go as far as some have to re-exegete the Biblical references typically used against homosexuality, but then, he isn't feeling the need to use the Bible constitutionally as a weapon against any specific behavior. Instead, he re-tells the story of Philip and the eunuch from Acts 8 with commentary from Deuteronomy. We come to better understand the non-place the eunuch would have had in Old Testament temple worship, and the significance of Philip immediately extending Christ's kingdom to him—the open, accepting, affirming kingdom where all are welcome. His point is well made.

Question 8, the Future question. Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
As I read this chapter, I realized how this is one of the three or so things that really triggered my own questions about the church as I had experienced it. For several years I have been wondering: “How can something as divisive and subject to personal interpretation as 'end-times prophecy' have become so time-consuming and predominant in many churches, while concerns related to the here-and-now like poverty, war, or ecology are mostly ignored (except as they might figure into yet another re-write of an end-times timetable)?”
(In case you are interested, a couple other triggers have been observing a major disregard for the teachings and example of Christ regarding poverty and injustice in favor of a rather inward focused 'bless me' mentality, and the presence of a rather distasteful and very unChrist-like persecution of people-who-are-not-like-us made even more unpalatable by the persistent lobbing of scripture verses which may or may not say what the hurlers fervently hope they do.)
Back to the future. We already can expect that McLaren is going to remind us that the kingdom of God is more a matter of here and now than there and then. So, it's not surprising that he is calling for a 'participatory eschatology' which means together we are to live out the principles of the kingdom instead of sitting and waiting for it to show up according to some time line. He warns that this participation walks a narrow line between ignoring God's leading and presence, and complacency in just watching it happen.

Question 9, the Pluralism question.
How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
The initial, first-part answer to this question is pretty unanimous among the post-church crowd—the church needs to lose her arrogance, get rid of the us and them mentality, and love as Christ loves. Some readers may be hoping (or dreading) a next-step response to include a major sellout of redemption, salvation, or being 'born again'. But he doesn't go there. He knows that no one has all the answers, that we need to be more willing to learn from others than to teach them. But he has no plans on being a universalist. He reminds us that the issue is following Christ—his life, his way, his deeds, his character of “compassion, healing, acceptance, forgiveness, inclusion and love.”
I think he probably has more to say on this question, and perhaps has a lot more thinking to do before saying it. In some ways, his response to this question may not take you as far as you want to go—but that's OK. If he stirs up discussion, he has done what he wanted to do.

Question 10, the What-do-we-do-now question.
How can we translate our quest into action?
As McLaren comes to his final question, it is a 'What next?' kind of question. Although he certainly encourages us to rethink many of the paradigms built over the past 2 millennia, he is careful to not let us stop at just thinking and talking. “If this quest leads only to a reformation in our thinking and talking, it is not a new kind of Christianity at all, but just a variation of an old kind. ... The end of our quest is a better world in which God's will is increasingly done.”
Although the call is to action, it is not just outward action. It must include “...a deep desire to know and love God.” He calls us “...to arise each day in the real presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”, to “...nurture an interior life with God”, “...to struggle with the versions of the faith we inherited without giving up on faith altogether”, “to proceed...more by quietly building communities of peace and practice rooted in the teaching and example of Jesus.”
In a desire to both honor the rich history and theologies of the past, yet press on in our quest, he paints a colorful rainbow of the historical stages of our quest: Survival, security, power, independence, individuality, honesy, and then something much richer than just peace, that includes healing, unity, liberation and rediscovery. His warning to us is that “Sometimes our honest inquiry simply leads to conceit and a critical spirit.” Instead, he encourages us to recognize that each stage is reached by an honest search, and growth out of the previous one. Although we may see all stages present around us, each has value for those who find themselves within it. We must not be content in a stage of 'honesty' critiquing the other stages, but move to a place of “one-another-ness, interconnectedness, joined-in-the-common-good-ness, and profound commitment to the well-being of all”—the place where we must realize God dwells. Contrary to a view that pits one theology against another, we need to see the inclusivity of Christ. This is a much more generous and magnanimous position than I might naturally take. After all, if each stage is a step forward, it is easy to berate those who are:
-content to stay where they are, and
-happy to pin the tag 'heretic' on anyone who is struggling forward.
McLaren concludes his response to the final question with confidence. Confidence that we will continue to grow and adapt in grace and love.

McLaren wraps things up with some wisdom for those continuing the quest (slightly edited):
-Don't think your way into a new way of living, but live your way into a new way of thinking.
-This needs to be a communal activity, not a solo sport.
-“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
He also gives some sage, gracious advice for working out whether you will stay or leave your present community of faith, and how to do so lovingly.
He ends on the high road of honoring and staying connected with the past, while precipitating a change “... out of love for the truth, and the desire to bring it to light” ( Luther).

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