on March 20, 2002
For many non-Christians, just the thought of encountering a Christian "evangelist" is likely to incite discomfort, if not anger. One reason for this is that the church's attempts to "preach the gospel" have all too often come across as arrogant, overly intrusive, condescending, high pressured, and, well, just plain irrelevant. Indeed, too often our ecclesiastical traditions work against even our best motives, and we end up hindering the progress of the gospel, unnecessarily offending those who most need help.
It seems that in our desire to share the truth, we have somehow forgotten that, among other things, we are to share it "in love," that is, in a way that is personal, easy to hear, and applicable to the particular situation we are addressing. Likewise, we have become overly content with our own brands of ministry, even to the point of being critical of anything that disrupts the status quo.
Unfortunately, much of the church has failed to come to grips with the many societal shifts that have taken place over the past few decades. In short, we've been unable (or unwilling) to approach postmodernism in an evenhanded fashion.
Some of the worst features of "modern" Christianity include the tendency to engage in manipulative techniques, to force-feed Bible verses, and to offer simplistic solutions to life's dilemmas. Many postmoderns have rightly rejected such practices, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, though, many postmodern people have come to equate Christianity with its worst adherents and its most unbiblical routines. As a result, many turn a deaf ear to the Christian gospel, or at least to the modernistic formulation of it.
How, then, should we respond to this situation? In what way can we reach today's world with the gospel of Jesus? While many have opted for "the old time" (but worn out) religion, and though others only recognize the worst elements of postmodernism, surely there must be a better way.
What we need, is a serious (yet careful) rethinking of the biblical data, an honest appraisal of the best (and not just the worst elements) of postmodernism, and a fresh application of ancient truth to our postmodern situation. Rather than defending the status quo, we are in desperate need of believers who are willing to be postmodern trailblazers, people who take seriously both God's word and His world. One of these trailblazers is Brian McLaren, and we ought to thank God for people like him.
Although McLaren clearly recognizes the dangers that abound, his approach to postmodernism is primarily positive. Indeed, he treats postmodernism less like something to be avoided-though some of it obviously should-and more like an opportunity to engage in ministry that is refreshing and new. It just might be that God is providing us with some wonderful opportunities during this postmodern phase of history.
In More Ready Than You Realize, McLaren is not interested in mere theory. Rather, he is concerned to explain and demonstrate how Christians can best spread the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ within a postmodern matrix. This he accomplishes by recounting a series of email discussions between himself and an inquiring individual named Alice. At one level, Alice is clearly interested in Jesus, but she is simultaneously skeptical and filled with doubts, questions, and the gnawing feeling that the "Christianity" she has heretofore encountered is actually a deterrent to faith.
In these discussions, McLaren allows Alice to follow her postmodern inclinations. Then, instead of debating Alice, he agrees with many of her contentions, acknowledging that there are many flaws in the typical tactics used to reach non-Christians. As McLaren notes, modern evangelism became so enamored with logic and evangelistic slogans that it began to sound like "a commercial on radio or TV or a political slogan in a campaign or a scientific formula in a classroom" (p. 16). In contrast, "good evangelists . . . are people who engage others in conversions about important and profound topics" (14). In other words, a better (and more biblical) way of reaching those outside of the faith is to treat the gospel more like a song, something you move to. In such an approach, the gospel subtly impacts a person who-if he/she truly hears from God-can't help but dance. According to McLaren, our evangelism must recapture this original posture.
Through his conversations with Alice, McLaren accomplishes a number of things. Among these are the following:
* Identifying weaknesses of the modern-version of Christianity and evangelism.
* Making clear the differences between modern and postmodern versions of the faith.
* Pointing out the need for Christians to learn these matters. Christians often need to be "converted" to a more vibrant (more postmodern) form of Christianity.
* Showing that spiritual awakening, especially in postmodern context, is-from our perspective at least-more of a process than an event.
* Demonstrating that we can and should trust that God is at work in the lives of the people we encounter.
* Perhaps most relevant, emphasizing the need to build spiritual friendships with those whom we encounter.
Throughout this excellent little book (188 pages), McLaren utilizes this dialogue with Alice to display a more postmodern friendly version of the faith. This postmodern perspective can be observed both through the specific words McLaren shares with Alice, and even more so in the real-life conversations we are privileged to listen in on.
Here is a fitting follow-up to McLaren's previous works (The Church on the Other Side, Finding Faith, A New Kind of Christian). In More Ready Than You Realize, McLaren shows us that the people we meet, even the most irreligious of them, might be more ready to hear the gospel than we realize. And, maybe too, we might be more ready to lovingly, compassionately, gradually, and humbly, share it with them. Perhaps, we are prepared to dance. And maybe, others-who see us dancing-will join us. Brian McLaren has written More Ready to foster this concern, and to tell us, and even more show us, how to dance.
Carmen C. DiCello
Pastor, New Hope Christian Fellowship
Master of Divinity (Apologetics), Columbia Evangelical Seminary
on May 16, 2002
Brian McLaren, author of "A New Kind of Christian", here presents a new kind of evangelism (a word he hopes falls into disuse) for post-modern society. Rather than the old "Four Spiritual Laws" or mass-evangelistic models, McLaren offers an alternative that may indeed become the wave of the future. The major portion of this book is based on e-mail conversations over a two-year period between Rev. McLaren and a musician he hires for a particular service at his church. As he befriends this person, who has many questions about the Christian faith, he is respectful of her misgivings, does not pressure her when she goes through periods of seemingly moving away from faith rather than toward faith, and indeed he seems to learn as much from her as she learns from him (thereby the "dance" metaphor). This is not to be confused with "friendship evangelism", it is simply a friendship in the context of community where the light of Christ is allowed to shine through rather than being used to beat people into submission. This type of "evangelism" can be done by people who shy away from "evangelism" per se, and may be more effective in the long run than the traditional styles of bearing witness to the gospel. I guess that remains to be seen, but this is an eye-opening book that gives much food for thought.
on June 13, 2005
More Ready than You Realize may be one of the most important books I've ever read. It's so refreshing to hear healthy criticism come from within the Church, beseeching us to rethink our beliefs concerning the Christian life and evangelism.
At first glance, this book seems to be about evangelism. When you go deeper, though, you realize that McLaren is proposing an entirely different way of thinking the Chrisian life, which involves, very importantly, how we share our faith with others.
Out, he says, is evangelism as win-and-lose, as debate, as something we have to do, or as "the found" teaching "the lost." Rather, he says, we should emphasize spiritual friendships and think of evangelism as a "dance," where no one "wins" and where everyone gets to have a learning experience. Thus, sharing our faith is not about us giving of what we have, but it's a natural part of our growth as Christians.