I’m not sure, but I think the books I’ve been reading lately have caused my wife some worry.
“What are you reading, now?” she asked.
“Brian McLaren’s book, ‘A New Kind of Christian.’ ” (2001 Jossey-Bass Inc., San Francisco)
“Oh yeah? What’s wrong with the ‘old kind’ of Christian?”
My guess is McLaren gets that question often.
McLaren, an English teacher by trade, helped start Cedar Ridge Community Church just outside Washington, D.C., in 1982. In his book, McLaren uses a fictional pastor with a Baptist wife, very much like my wife, to question many of the Christian church’s conventional assumptions.
His prolific nature for questions may be one of the reasons Time magazine named him among the 25 most Influential Evangelicals in America. Calling him a “paradigm shifter,” Time highlighted his work as the senior fellow with Emergent Network.
And what is Emergent? Defined by its Web site, Emergent
Village.com, it is a group calling for “Christian leaders from all streams of the Christian faith around the world to collaborate in unprecedented ways.”
Nope, this isn’t my daddy’s church.
When McLaren talks about an emerging church, he means we ought to see church as an evolving conversation “in which our mission is consistent even as changing times require fresh and creative thinking each generation.”
McLaren’s writings all struggle with the way Christianity is addressing a changing world. In a world where our children are going to have to practice their faith as a minority, McLaren is suggesting the church might be better served by bringing a chorus of voices at the table.
While many of his ideas have likely angered some popular preachers, including me at times, there are lots of people listening.
In an e-mail interview last week, I asked McLaren what he considers to be the greatest challenge of the church. He spoke of his concern that the “West is generally unaware of the degree to which it has become enmeshed with a colonial mindset, and it must re-discover its post-colonial identity and mission.”
Which likely leaves a few readers — his and mine — asking, “Huh?”
But from reading his books, I can tell you that by “colonial mindset” he means we should be concerned that the 20th century church did a lot of wagon circling and opposed change at all costs.
Knowing wagon circling just keeps people on the outside, I asked McLaren what single thing keeps people out of the church.
“Of course, this varies,” says McLaren. “But overall, Christians don’t practice what we preach; we drive people from faith. Along with this, as Jesus said, ‘cares of this world’ — meaning our consumerism, lust, nationalism and fear — all of these things can choke out our spiritual vitality and fruitfulness.
“I believe we must rediscover the essential message of Jesus — the message of the kingdom of God. This rediscovery will lead to the development of a more integral mission in which things formerly separated are integrated, things like the making of new disciples and the pursuit of justice and peace.”
McLaren has some pretty harsh critics. “But overall,” he says, “I’ve been more impressed by the number of people who want to re-examine the Scriptures, even when doing so upsets their conventional assumptions. At the end of the day, I think most Christians agree that Jesus is our hope, not the church; and the church is at its best when it radically and adventurously trusts and follows Jesus rather than leaning on its own understanding.”
Brian, I think my wife considers being married to me a radical adventure of its own, but I’m still hoping she’ll read the book.