238 of 273 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important book
Brian McLaren has emerged as a voice that asks aloud the questions that many of us have wrestled with in silence. As a result, he has been lionized (and sometimes idolized) by those who find resonance with his theological ponderings. He has simultaneously been demonized and even slandered by those who are disturbed by his explorations into what it means to follow Jesus...
Published on February 19, 2010 by Mort Coyle
209 of 250 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars McLaren, on balance, is worth reading
I'm cross-posting this review from The Christian Humanist Blog, so do forgive any html oddities.
When I praise Plato and defend my teaching Republic to college freshmen, I often say that Plato's excellence lies not in the fact that he's always right but that when he's wrong, he's wrong in compelling ways, ways that inspire me to imagine a better alternative...
Published on February 17, 2010 by Nathan P. Gilmour
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238 of 273 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important book,
This review is from: A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (Hardcover)
Brian McLaren has emerged as a voice that asks aloud the questions that many of us have wrestled with in silence. As a result, he has been lionized (and sometimes idolized) by those who find resonance with his theological ponderings. He has simultaneously been demonized and even slandered by those who are disturbed by his explorations into what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century. He has become both an antenna and a lightning rod for the light and heat generated by the friction of Christianity's transition into post-modernism.
I have just finished reading McLaren's latest book, A New Kind of Christianity. Having read several of McLaren's other books, I would consider this one to be essential. I mean "essential" in two different ways:
1. "Essential" in the sense that A New Kind of Christianity is a streamlined and tightly focused distillation of ideas that McLaren has explored elsewhere. This book seems to contain the concentrated essence of what McLaren's theological labor has produced thus far. I often found points which he had sketched out in previous books now re-drawn in sharp, clear and muscular form. As a result--at under 300 pages--this book packs a great deal of theological, intellectual and inspirational punch.
2. "Essential" in the sense that A New Kind of Christianity is *the* Brian McLaren book to read, whether you haven't read anything else by him or whether you have read everything else by him.
A New Kind of Christianity is built around the exploration of ten important questions that Christians throughout the world seem to be asking more and more and with greater urgency. These questions are:
1. What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
2. How should the Bible be understood?
3. Is God violent?
4. Who is Jesus and why is He important?
5. What is the Gospel?
6. What do we do about the Church?
7. Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
8. Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
9. How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
10. What do we do now? (How do we translate our quest into action?)
McLaren doesn't so much provide pat answers to these questions as give thoughtful responses which leave the door open for further exploration. His tone throughout is humble, circumspect and low-key. This is not a book for people who want a pedagogue to tell them what to believe. Rather it inspires you to bring your own theology into the light and take an honest look at what you believe, why you believe it and if, perhaps, you ought to rethink a thing or two (or ten).
As an example, early on McLaren provides a brilliantly simple visual representation of the Biblical narrative according to Western "Greco-Roman" Christianity (aka Catholicism & Protestantism). He then proceeds to carefully deconstruct that "Greco-Roman" narrative and present an alternate "Hebrew" narrative which is vibrant, hopeful, appealing and, frankly, makes a whole lot more sense. One begins to realize that this "New Kind of Christianity" is also very ancient.
As a Quaker, I found myself surprised at the parallels to Quaker theology which I found all through this book. I had an opportunity to ask Brian about this on a conference call and he responded very enthusiatically. He is quite familiar with the theology of Friends and spoke in glowing terms of Quakers. Perhaps George Fox & Co. were at the far bleeding edge of what has come to be called the Emergent Church Movement! In the book, McLaren refers to those throughout Church history who, like the Quakers and Anabaptists, provided a "minority report" on what it means to follow Jesus.
On that same conference call (courtesy of [...]), McLaren said that it took him far longer to write this book than any other book he has written. It shows. Now that I have finished reading it, I plan to begin re-reading it immediately. This is an extremely important book. Buy it. I am not exaggerating when I say that if I could afford to, I would get a copy for every Christian and every spiritual seeker I know.
209 of 250 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars McLaren, on balance, is worth reading,
This review is from: A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (Hardcover)
I'm cross-posting this review from The Christian Humanist Blog, so do forgive any html oddities.
When I praise Plato and defend my teaching Republic to college freshmen, I often say that Plato's excellence lies not in the fact that he's always right but that when he's wrong, he's wrong in compelling ways, ways that inspire me to imagine a better alternative. While Brian McLaren is no Plato, parts of his most recent book A New Kind of Christianity have that Platonic character to them, getting things very wrong in ways that set me thinking about how I'd improve on his points. Other parts of the book resonate quite nicely with things that I try to do as a Christian teacher or realize now that I should try to do. But other parts still, alas, smack of the sleight-of-hand, the well-poisoning, and the other dirty trickery that make me mistrust apologetics literature of various sorts. In other words, A New Kind of Christianity is a complex book, not consistently excellent but nonetheless very helpful in places.
Brian McLaren Gets it Right
As Phil Rutledge pointed out in response to our podcast on the Haiti Earthquake, when I talk about the Bible, I tend to talk not about one unified document but a library, various not only in cosmetic details but in a more robust sense of genre, asking certain questions in this book that lie out of bounds in other books, offering teachings here that seem to stand at least in tension with teachings there. (I should note the obvious, namely that I do not speak for the other Christian Humanists on this point or necessarily on any given point.) I tend to think that the flexibility of such a collection is part of the Bible's strength, that the practice of being Christian community is richer because Christian teachers can pull from a broad range of resources depending on the contingencies of the moment without having to pretend that every moment is the same as every other moment. When we need a text that shakes us out of complacency, the Bible has a book for that. When we lean over the precipice of despair, the Bible has a book for that. And so on. I think that McLaren offers a handy next step in that thought process, noting that the Bible is a true collection of texts precisely because of the "spaces between" those strong positions of Deuteronomy or 1 Chronicles on one hand and Ecclesiastes or Job on the other.
Furthermore, McLaren highlights the God-defining character of Christ and insists that the Palestinian Jew Jesus of Nazareth and not the Aristotelian Unmoved Mover is a better starting point for disciplined reflection upon the character of God. I know that making the historical Jesus that radically central flies in the face of much systematic theology (including that of Thomas Aquinas, one of my favorites), but I agree with McLaren that such a move is ultimately more faithful to the gospel of John among other Scriptural witnesses.
Finally, when McLaren gives advice to parishioners and clergy who find themselves resonating with progressive ideas, and his counsel leans consistently towards humble and peace-seeking measures rather than grandstanding, intellectual and moral arrogance, and other vices that so often characterize folks who think they've gotten something right while their neighbors still get it wrong. His exhortation to "be a blessing" is probably my favorite part of the book.
I noted above, and I write again, this book does get some things very right, and by no means should anyone think that it's error, error, error all the way down.
Brian McLaren Gets it Wrong
That said, as someone who loves intellectual history and who values some degree of historical precision, I do blame this book for playing fast and loose with historical identifications for the sake of scoring cheap rhetorical points. One of the jokes that was current during my days at The Ooze forums was that the Emergent words for "really quite bad" were "modern" and "modernist," and the word for "so much better, don't you think?" was "postmodern." McLaren seems to have left that ugly and misleading binary pair only to settle on another pair, just as ugly and even more misleading (and also a binary that I started encountering back in seminary), the Manichean dualism of "the Bible" and "Greco-Roman religion." Resisting the temptation to examine every instance of "Greco-Roman" meaning just plain "bad," I'll point out a few that drew a chuckle from me for their historical naivete: Greco-Roman religion, apparently, has no place in it for homosexuality (175--apparently all of that Athenian praise for pederasty as superior to love-of-women doesn't count), does not allow for multiple religions (212--never mind the Roman Empire's grand scheme of syncretism that incorporated pantheons as diverse as the Celts' and the Egyptians'), and stands as a pernicious idol called Theos, who stands as enemy to the Biblical god Elohim (65--I suppose the New Testament authors didn't get the memo that the Greek language had that idol mixed in there).
The content of McLaren's "Greco-Roman" tradition came about as the fruit of a conversation he relates in which an epiphany came to him, namely that the broad outlines of the traditional Evangelical narrative (he extends it to Catholic and Magesterial Protestant traditions as well) derive not from Biblical narratives but from Plato. Unfortunately, McLaren casts Plato only as the first step in a larger metanarrative, and that move is what makes things go downhill in a hurry. In McLaren's "six-line narrative" to which he refers again and again as he digs into his ten questions, Plato is only the first stage in the grand narrative, ruined when the world falls from Platonic perfection (which sounds more like Plotinus's realm of Ideas) into the "storied" world of Aristotle.
I'm certain Aristotle would have been surprised to find out that he was writing a simple sequel to Plato rather than supplanting his philosophy, but even more surprising to Alexander's tutor would no doubt be that, according to McLaren, Aristotle held that forms do not have any existence, properly speaking, save as mental constructs. (If Dante's right that Aristotle is in Limbo, where he might converse with future ages' non-Christian philosophers, no doubt someone has told him by now that the forms as purely mental was actually one of William of Ockham's central contributions to philosophy in the fourteenth century.) Perhaps more surprising still would be that, after dwelling in the Aristotle trench, the eternal souls that Plato does talk about (though sometimes in terms of reincarnation) return to a "Platonic" stasis, some by achieving salvation (another category rather alien to Plato and to Aristotle) and then reaching a final Platonic (neo-Platonic?) ideal, and some by falling into what McLaren calls "Greek Hades," a construct that of course predates Plato and Aristotle by a few centuries and has little to do, in the texts I've read, with punishing earthly evil. If one says anything about Homer's Hades, one should say that it's terrifyingly egalitarian, and that's what Achilles hates so much--he's forgotten just as readily as all of the other shades about him.
If all of that sounds familiar through the haze of misused Greek texts, it's because the "Greco-Roman narrative" that McLaren would impose upon Plato and Aristotle (the tag team!) is far more akin to what Origen, Augustine, and other Christian writers would call the narrative of creation, fall, and redemption. Although certain iterations of that narrative sequence deserve criticism, McLaren does nobody any favors (especially those of us who love teaching Plato) by inventing a syncretic thought-system that simply does not exist in classical texts and then loading that cumbersome burden on some of Christianity's best tutors.
As a passing comment in the introduction to one of his chapters, McLaren notes that, although he's not been a seminarian, he has read "thousands of theology books" (78). I suppose my own counsel for aspiring Christian writers is that we read fewer books, perhaps dozens, but take the time that good books deserve to understand and live with them.
Brian McLaren Gets Sneaky
Given the unhappy choice between accusing a writer I like (and I do like Brian McLaren) of duplicity and insinuating that the same writer has forgotten or misread, I'll usually err on the side of charity and say that, for example, McLaren probably read some really bad books about Greco-Roman philosophy instead of reading translations of Plato and Aristotle themselves, and that likely led to his strange construction "Greco-Roman." But there are moments of this book that make me deeply suspicious, and although I'd prefer not to approach people I like with suspicion... well, here goes.
In an early section of the book, McLaren relates a talk he gave at a conference in which he lined up seven people on the stage, each representing a historical figure. In a diagram that I won't reproduce here (I'm going to be cross-posting this review, and so I'm trying to keep html to a minimum), McLaren labels seven stick figures as follows:
Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther or Erasmus, Calvin or Wesley or Newton, Pope Benedict or Jerry Falwell or Billy Graham
After he briefly notes that folks who get their theology from this stream aren't "directly seeing Jesus" (36), he gives the people in the row a different set of names:
Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Amos or Isaiah or Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus
His point seems to be that the reading of Biblical texts that will follow in his book, unlike the "Greco-Roman" version of things, would work forwards up to Jesus rather than backwards to Jesus, therefore giving a different sort of story.
The problems are obvious, of course: without even reaching for my bookshelf, I could tell you in which books Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Erasmus, Calvin, and Pope Benedict talk about the six figures that McLaren seems to think he's rediscovering. Beyond that, McLaren's progressive theology, a tradition that doubtless deserves a hearing in its own right and on its own terms, has its own "hidden six" that McLaren never names. So if I might offer one possible lineup, some whose influence I detect globally and others with page numbers where I detected some of their influence:
Jesus, Vico (50-51), Hegel (239), Marx (239) or Darwin (14-15), Nietzsche or Wellhausen, Foucault (31) or Freud or Bultmann, Ehrman or Crossan or Borg
Such is not to say that the Traditionalist Six automatically deserves more of a hearing than do the Progressive Six. But I do think that anyone, left-wing or right-wing, should have the honesty to name one's own influences rather than pitting one's own Bible-loving self against one's traditions-of-men enemies. All of us who come to the Christian tradition know Adam and David; let's have some honest conversation about how we're using them and how they influence us.
Beyond the invisible-influence suspicion, I had some real troubles with the ways that McLaren talks about professionally trained authority figures. In one passage he would say that folks who hold seminary credentials likely have good intentions but, because of their need to support themselves and because they haven't progressed along his (Maslow-flavored-this is another instance of invisible influence) color-coded scale of theological awareness. In another he would refer to clergy-types as prison guards (31) who are keeping folks from their spiritual freedom. And with regards to formal training itself, McLaren in this book, as in his other books, makes a point of boasting that he's not had formal seminary training (though apparently he's read thousands of theology books), but late in the game, giving advice to clergy who think their congregations might be interested in moving up a step on the Maslow-McLaren rainbow, writes thus:
Get a consultant. There is enormous power in having the guidance of a wise, gifted, and experienced person who remains outside your congregational or denominational system. Good consultants are expensive, I know, but so are good heart surgeons, and the two have a lot in common. (247)
First of all, as someone who loves Plato (the real Plato, not the one whom McLaren invents earlier in the book), I immediately recognized Plato's community-leader-as-physician riff, and I chuckled (just for a second) that McLaren was now out-Platonizing Plato. For those who have not read much Plato, his argument for appointing the best and the brightest to administer a community rather than trusting such things to democracy involves comparing justice to medicine and noting that very few people want medical decisions made on the basis of popular opinion. I would have expected such an argument to extend to ordained and seminary-trained clergy rather than freelance consultants, given the rather structured and hierarchical world of heart surgeons, but I was still chuckling.
But then, once the immediate amusement wore off, I remembered the mercenary and self-serving motives assigned to folks who actually dedicate their lives to one place as pastors and priests, and I was quite angry that he reserved none of that fury for hirelings who jet around the country collecting "consultant fees." For whatever reason, my angry self thought, McLaren prefers temporary fee-grabbers to those who practice the old monastic virtue of stability.
Then I realized that both Brian McLaren and Tony Jones pitch themselves as consultants, and after a bit of Google searching, I realized that Doug Pagitt and Len Sweet also advertise themselves as consultants. That's when the anger turned to suspicion.
Please understand that I'm an equal-opportunity religious-consultant-hater; if Mark Driscoll or Jim Dobson or Ken Ham do the same, I don't like that either. As an Aristotelian (the Aristotle whose Nicomachean Ethics I love, not the Ockham-Aristotle that McLaren invented), I believe that leadership happens best, especially for communities dedicated to reconstituting the body of the Cosmic King (that would be churches, folks), when those communities look within rather than shuffling through resumes, and I'm inclined to hold consultants far below the permanent-hire-from-out-of-town in terms of the goods they do for a community. And given that McLaren in other places fires pot shots at the folks who dedicate their lives to particular communities in particular places, I couldn't help but continue in my suspicion.
I realize that not everybody is as suspicious of out-of-town "experts" as I am, and I'd be fine if McLaren were consistently sanguine. But as it stands, it looks like he decided to use this book, which pitches itself as a moment of honesty, as a platform to promote himself and his Emergent Village buddies while calling dedicated ordained folks prison guards, and that's an inexcusable bit of duplicity.
Brian McLaren Gets the Nod
As I wrote at the beginning of this marathon review, a book's excellence lies not in its being right but in its being interesting. Given that criterion, I'd still recommend this book for folks interested in reading some philosophical-progressive alternatives to modern evangelicalism. There are some moments of sloppy thinking and others of outright self-serving dishonesty, but on balance, I can accept those sorts of things in a book that spurs me to think for a while, and I think that this book did. If you run into folks like the ones in the book's opening anecdote, folks who tell you that Brian McLaren is too dangerous a writer for Christians to read without throwing their souls into peril, do those folks the courtesy of saying what the old lady in McLaren's story told him: "I don't see what the fuss is about" (2).
59 of 68 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I believe the premise is flawed,
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (Hardcover)
I am not a Calvinist. Like Mclaren I am charismatic and non-Reformed. I gave it 2 stars (instead of 1) because I felt the book, like Tim Keller's "Reason for God", addressed good and valid questions that people are asking today. I gave it 2 stars because I believe the premise of the book is faulty. Please let me explain:
Mclaren basis the entire book on one historical premise: that the Church, at the time of Constantine, imported neo-Platonism into Christianity and Christian faith has been defunct ever since. He says that Platonist ideas such as atonement, hell, just-war theory, a literalistic view of the Bible and the exclusivity of Christ are all ideas foreign to Christianity but were Greek and Roman ideas brought in by Constantine and others. Throughout the book he refers to traditional Christian belief as the "Greco-Roman story line" which he contrasts with his version of Christianity which he presents as true Christianity.
IF Mclaren's understanding of history is correct, then this really is a revolutionary book. Everything I have ever read and learned about this epoch of Church history however, leads me to believe that Mclaren's premise, and therefore all of his conclusions which he extrapolates throughout the book, are incorrect.
Now, that could mean that all the books I have read on the subject are wrong. But if that is so, then Mclaren needs to write a much larger book just to establish his premise as valid. The book does not attempt to explain why other branches of Christianity which grew up outside of the Roman empire or outside of the range of Greek thought (Ethiopian, Syrian, Indian, etc) also held to these beliefs. He also needs to explain why the early church fathers of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, who lived before Constantine, also embraced many of the views which Mclaren says is foreign to Christianity. These are questions Mclaren does not address in great, if any, detail which he should if he hopes to convince those who are historically minded.
Outside of his premise he then address relevant questions about God and violence, pluralism, the authority of the Bible, etc. He promotes an idea in which the view of God "evolves" through out the Bible from primitive to advanced. For example he writes of Noah and flood in chapter 11, "a god who mandates an intentional supernatural disaster leading to unparalleled genocide is hardly worthy of belief, much less worship". Mclaren sees God's judgments on humanity as "violent" and therefore primitive. In order to maintain his evolutionary view he then tries to take the violence out of the the book of Revelation saying that it's not about Jesus coming back to punish the wicked but it is rather an allegory about pacifism triumphing over militarism by turning the other cheek. I think that is an exegetical long shot. I do not think he gave it enough time and space to make me think that this is a possible or a valid reading of the book.
As in other books, he does a good amount of evangelical bashing, though he usually does it in a way that seems nice. Yet, when he is done I can not help but want to think of conservative evangelicals as redneck idiots.
514 of 643 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tearing Up the Contract & Starting Over Again,
In the middle of A New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren gives us a picture to describe how he thinks we need to change.
"Before...we are like lawyers trying to save an old contract, adding more and more fine print on page after page, until the provisions are weightier than the original contract. (This is good work, I suppose, and must be done for a generation or two, but it is not the work to which I feel called.) At some point, though, more and more of us will finally decide that it would make more sense to go back and revise the contract from scratch. And that work has begun. It is nowhere near complete, but the cat is out of the bag..."
And that cat is on a tear. McLaren attempts the impossible, essentially tossing out what you always thought was true, and starting again from scratch. The Fall of Genesis 3? That's really a coming-of-age story. The storyline of the Bible? It's really about the downside of progress, and about how good prevails in the end anyway. The Bible is a community library, and the violent, tribal God of the Genesis flood is "hardly worthy of belief, much less worship" - but those were early days, and our view of God is always changing. Jesus didn't come to start a new religion, nor is Christianity the answer in itself. In short, almost everything you know about God, the Bible, and Christianity is wrong, according to McLaren.
Disagree? It's probably because you have a Greco-Roman worldview, or worse. You may be someone who gets "authority and employment" from the old way of reading the Bible, which means you have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. To go back to McLaren's earlier image, you're maybe a lawyer who loves fine print and who hates cats being let out of their bags. You're probably like the theologians and pastors who:
"...sew on a patch here, cover up that bit over there with some duct tape, put a nice coat of cheerful paint on that section over there, play really uplifting music to distract from that bit under there, move the furniture so that part doesn't show, and so on."
You're either misguided or have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. Either way, it's hard to disagree without looking pitiable.
What to make of all of this?
First, I want to say that McLaren does make some good points. He puts his finger on some real problems. This isn't damning with faint praise. It's important, because it's what makes a book like this so compelling. Lots of people are going to buy what he says because they resonate with his critique.
Second, I'm grateful that McLaren has articulated his views. I suspect that there's going to be less guessing about what McLaren believes in the future. I don't think his views are a surprise to a lot of us, but they're in print now, and it's going to be a lot easier to talk about them.
Third, I'm going to predict that this book gets a lot of traction. I joined a conference call with McLaren last night and heard a number of people - including pastors - rave about the book. I think it's going to be one of those books in which the fans and critics speak past each other. The early reviews seem overwhelmingly positive. They won't be surprised if people like me don't like it. He takes some swipes at Mark Driscoll and John MacArthur, and sometimes comes across in a belittling way to evangelicals in general. He takes swipes at his critics sometimes that leave me gasping - and the fact that he does it with a friendly smile doesn't really help. This is going to be a polarizing book.
I really have to say that this is one of the most frustrating books I've read. I have a friend who says off-the-wall things. Half the time he's profound; the rest of the time he's just a bit random. I felt that way with this book. There are some potentially profound sections, but there's lots in the book that left me baffled. I can't remember reading any book that left me shaking my head so much. So much hinges on his assertion that we read the Scriptural storyline through a Platonic worldview, for instance, but I was far from convinced. His interpretation of Job, which he used to explain how we should read Scripture, left me scratching my head. His conclusions (or proposals) are so sweeping, and based on such baffling premises sometimes, that I hardly know where to begin.
Finally - and most importantly - this is not a minor tweak of Christianity. It is a repudiation of the church's understanding of the gospel. It really is tearing up the contract and starting all over again. McLaren says we've got the whole Biblical storyline, as well as our ideas of God and Scripture, all wrong. He'd rather be an atheist, he says, than believe in the God that many of us think is found in the Bible. You don't get any more basic. We are talking about two fundamentally different versions of Christianity and the gospel.
That's what makes this book so hard to critique. Supporters of the book will say that I'm critiquing it from a Greco-Roman mindset, using the Bible as a constitution text rather than as a community library. So my criticisms will be expected. McLaren's proposals go all the way back to the level of presuppositions, and unless you share his presuppositions it will be like complaining that the color red isn't blue enough. Fine, they will say, but it wasn't meant to be blue. He's not only giving us a new version of the Christian story, but he's making it very difficult to critique his new version using the resources of the old one. But I'm simply not convinced that he's made the case that he thinks he has.
Like McLaren, I believe we need to honestly examine our beliefs and practices, making corrections even when it's costly and uncomfortable. I believe that every generation needs to rediscover the gospel. But unlike McLaren, I'm not ready to toss the creation-fall-redemption storyline, or think that I've moved on from the God of Genesis 4-6. I'm simply not ready to say our old understanding of the gospel is wrong. We may need to rediscover it and be changed by it, and grow in our understanding of it. But that's different than tearing up the contract and starting all over again.
A few years ago, I was struggling with some of the issues McLaren raises. But I found that some of the answers being proposed were less, not more, satisfying. I believe that our biggest need is not for a new Christianity, but instead to rediscover some of the contours of the gospel we may have forgotten. We don't need a new contract; we need to "guard the good deposit" that's been entrusted to us (2 Timothy 1:14).
We really don't need a new kind of Christianity. We need to do a better job of rediscovering, and living in light of, the one we already have.
81 of 106 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I'll teach logical fallacies from this book for a rhetoric class,
My brother-in-law and I kind of played a game with this book on our way down south for Christmas. He'd just bought it. We traded off reading aloud in order to talk about it. His expertise is in theology, logic, and pastoral ministries, mine in rhetoric, church history, and the history of exegesis. Gradually our discussion centered on the gaping holes in McLaren's argument. Eventually we'd read a paragraph, even a sentence, pause, and ask, "Where's the logical fallacy?" Sometimes there were two. I teach college freshmen and am always on the lookout for game-like ways to learn about how to put an argument together, or not. They'll love breaking down a section of this book. It'll give them confidence. The fallacies are so easy to spot, like a rich vein of ore pushing at the surface of the text. We can go straight from McLaren to Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. I'm kind of excited.
His most egregious and probably most frequent fallacy was the "either-or," the false choice between two completely opposite, oversimplified, reductive alternatives, presenting no reasonable middle ground whatsoever. Most of the time this choice is between a "Greco-Roman soul-sorting six-line narrative" and his new kind of Christianity, between a "constitutional" mode of reading the Bible and his own "community library" mode. This kind of relentless binarism is what he critiques in the Greco-Roman way of telling the truth; this kind of interpretive hubris is what he critiques in the "constitutional" way to read. There are hasty generalizations, false analogies. He uses the words "hypothesize" and "perhaps" as truth claims, continuing his argument in the next sentence or paragraph as if what he suggested but failed to prove was in fact reliable enough to sustain an argument. In this or many other instances, he suggests or asserts (with occasional selective examples) and pretends he has proved. This comes off as a lazy way to argue--to toss something out there and see if it sticks without doing the hard work of research to see if it's verifiable. His endnotes parody scholarly conventions, often consisting of snappy comebacks to his concerned "loyal critics." A major portion of his chapter on sex consists of a vastly oversimplified and irrelevant account of the Copernican revolution. Rather than arguing his case about sexuality directly and in detail, he simply reasons: church authorities were wrong that the sun revolved around the earth; therefore, they are wrong in their current pronouncements on sexuality. For someone who lauds the virtue of love, McLaren's reading of Christian history is remarkably uncharitable. In nearly every case, he blithely and uncritically accepts controversial secular and atheistic criticism of the oppressiveness of the Christian past--and, again, doesn't do the research to justify himself or the skeptics he reads. With friends like McLaren, Christianity doesn't need enemies. But then, he's quite clear that he is no ally of traditional Christianity in any guise other than his interpretation of the early church, because Christianity was contaminated by the Greco-Roman soul-sorting six-line narrative early in its history and has yet to recover, until today, when, in his chapter on the essential Gospel, McLaren maps out his particular vision for Christianity's future that involves a radical break from its past. Yet McLaren fails to justify himself or his comrades as the kind of authoritative voices who can compel such a radical break. Failing to prove almost anything he says, he suggests that we should listen because he is speaking. Perhaps he has earned this authority in circles I do not frequent, yet in this reading I am not sure why he has earned it.
McLaren will sometimes tell snippet stories about how Christians who disagree with him are malicious and rude, calling him terrible names. This is a logical fallacy called "Poisoning the Well." As we read, though, I came to identify more and more with the anger of the people about whom he was reporting. This is, for instance, the first one-star review I've ever given on Amazon. Whether or not McLaren is a deceiver, he writes like one. His rhetorical pose is that of a charlatan, a snake oil salesman, using rhetorical and logical tricks to camouflage the weakness of his argument, the poverty of his thinking, and the paucity of his proof. If I believed what he believed, the fact that someone like "the man who wrote this book" believed it would give me pause. I do share some of his views on, say, pacifism and the immanence of the kingdom of God, but at the occasional moments when I was tempted to feel an "amen," I was embarrassed to, or, worse, couldn't do so in good conscience because a prose of such incessant manipulation might be manipulating me yet again.
This book is one of the most condescending and contemptuous toward its audience that I have ever read. Its argumentative strategy assumes that you and I will fall for cheap rhetorical and logical tricks. Don't.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Bible's not Homer,
This is a revised version of my original review,which I decided was insufficient after rereading it. My general opinion remains unchanged, however. As much as I'd like to give this book a more positive rating, I simply can't.
McLaren does take a novel approach to the Bible, reading it as a literary classic that revolves around the character of Christ. In doing so he employs late 20th century methods of literary criticism familiar to anyone who has taken a college lit. class in the last few decades.
This method does yield some true pearls of insight, especially in his comments on the book of Job. Basically he suggests that we should not see ourselves as under the biblical text, as do fundies, or over it, as liberals tend to. Rather, we should seek to engage ourselves in a conversation with the text, letting what we know of Jesus' character guide our understanding of it.
All well and good. But in his zeal for a new approach he abandons sound hermeneutical principles. This leads to a highly untenable interpretation of Jesus' "no man cometh to the Father but by me" statement (McLaren says this actually means that none of the original 12 come to the Father but by him, but this isnt necessarily true for everyone). It also causes him to dismiss all elements of God's wrathful nature from Revelation.
McLaren has a distaste for the idea of power being the ultimate determinant in the Universe. I share this sentiment. But if in the end there are those who insist on continuing in malicious evil, then God will have no choice but to purge them from creation.
They will not suffer "conscious, eternal torture" as he puts it. But they will be mercifully and permanently erased from existence.
In summary, I think that McLaren's approach to Scripture has some merit. I refuse to submit to anything that violates my conscience or intellect. But I also believe that the Bible contains the mind of God, and it should be appreciated for what it is, not for what we want it to be.
Once McLaren finds this balance - and I think he will - then he will be able to offer something truly profound to our understanding of the biblical texts. Meanwhile I remain cautiously critical of his ideas.
21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I'm having difficulty resisting any references to Palpatine.,
This review is from: A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (Paperback)
I think the second Emergent book I read was "A Generous Orthodoxy" (the first was "Velvet Elvis", although I know Rob Bell rejects the Emergent label). I enjoyed it, just because McLaren was asking questions that resonated with me. He jostled me a few times, but the book was at least as attractive as it was concerning.
I have generally felt that many of the points Bell and McLaren have been attempting to make in recent years have been very valid. I agree that my walk with Christ should be a relationship that I live out, not a list of doctrinal statements or propositions that I recite. The Church did need to assess where we might be stuck in an outdated, modernistic rut. I agree that I should critically examine my beliefs to see if they're just sacred cows with no foundation in scripture, and that I should be thinking about the cultural and philosophical lenses I view the Bible through as I do the examining.
The next Emergent book I read, "The Post Evangelical", changed things. Dave Tomlinson, writing to a much more progressive British readership, wasn't as effectively and meticulously disarming as Bell and McLaren had been. He flatly advocated rejecting some very established Christian ideas about morality in order to open the church up to postmoderns, and in my mind that represented a fork in the road, because there are several ways to accomplish that. One might be to say, "We've been wrong about what the Bible means. The Bible is inspired, and we are imperfect, and we've been terribly wrong before. So let's take another look." A more objectionable one might be to say, "We are right, and the Bible is wrong, and it's time we took matters into our own hands, because this old book has become an obstacle to what we want to do."
I read McLaren's "A New Kind of Christianity" a week or so ago, and I was mortified. Put plainly, the man no longer believes the Bible (but he really, really likes it, he assures us). He does not believe it is authoritative, and he does not believe that it is true. He does not believe that it is the only rule of faith and practice. He no longer believes that the God it describes in the pentateuch is really God. He no longer believes that Christianity is the ultimate answer. He no longer believes in the things the Bible promises. Basically what it comes down to is that whatever Brian McLaren likes about the Bible is true, and whatever Brian McLaren dislikes about the Bible is not true. If he has not exposed himself as a false teacher here, then I am at a loss to say what would define a false teacher.
The questions he is asking in the book are great questions. Excellent questions. They are truly the questions that many people, myself included, wrestle with repeatedly. But McLaren has finally laid his cards on the table about his own conclusions... very politely and, ironically, using one rationalistic argument after another. The news is not good. Of course, by his account, because I disagree with him I am to be pitied.
I gave this book two stars only because his questions are so good. It's his answers that are horrifying.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Was this the best book I ever read? It just might be.,
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (Kindle Edition)
Brian McLaren has had to endure a fair amount of criticism and ridicule over this book (and others). His writing has made him both a target and a beacon. Perhaps this is the destiny of all visionaries and prophets.
For many years I have been overly concerned with orthodoxy, with being right, with holding to true doctrine (as defined by ???? [the orthodoxy police?]). How strange and contrary to the character of God. What a waste!
Yet, how necessary the journey. Years of training and nurture cannot be undone in an instant. Walking with God, loving God, loving his creation: these things fill my heart with joy and gratitude. And I'm glad to know I'm not alone.
Need some encouragement? Ready to stop worrying about what others will think? Want to take the next step along life's path? Would you like to change the world? Then maybe this book will be worth your time.
82 of 116 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Christless Parody of the Christian Faith,
I've struggled with how to introduce this review because of how much I've struggled with the book. Yes, I've struggled with the ideas and theology and writing itself. For me it's more than that:
I don't get it.
I don't understand what happened. How did Brian get from THERE <-----to-----> HERE? The Brian of ANKofXianity doesn't seem like the same guy who launched this whole Emergent journey nearly a decade ago. The man behind this book just doesn't seem like the guy I encountered in his first-ever book, The Church on the Other Side, the man who was as generous in his orthodoxy as he was genuinely appreciative toward orthodoxy itself, and the wandering, yet tethered, theo-explorer I found in his mythic characters Neo or Pastor Dan.
Now don't get me wrong. I don't know Brian McLaren. I've had a few encounters and conversations with him, like at some sessions at the National Pastors Conference a year ago. But I also attended his church for half a year and was involved in a social justice project he helped coordinate while in Washington D.C. Here's the thing: I leapt into his church and into this social activism because I trusted Brian and his voice. While wading through my own spiritual deconstruction process five years ago, I gravitated to the only person I knew who was asking the questions I was asking, but seemed tethered to the "pieces" that still mattered to the Christian faith. I respected him for his prophetic voice and when people bleated and bellowed on and on about his so-called "heresy," I defended. I went to the mat with my boss in ministry, skeptical friends, and mortified parents.
So when I ask, "what happened?" I ask the question as one who was, to some extent, personally invested. Sure I man-crushed on the guy a bit to hard, but I sought his wisdom and insight and church community to help me navigate the terra nova at the intersection of postmodernity and Christian spirituality. I saw in Brian a desire to peal away the crap the USAmerican Church attached to Jesus and the Cross, while not cashing in the farm completely.
That, however, has changed.
While I know I have shifted in my own spiritual/theological journey, it is clear Brian has progressively shifted, too. I highly doubt Brian would have guessed 28 years ago at the beginning of his pastoral Christian ministry that he would push a new kind of Christianity that scantily reflects the Holy Scriptures and subverts the historical Rule of Faith that believes Jesus Christ is exclusively Lord and Messiah. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case.
Though Brian wonders aloud "How did a mild-manner guy like me get into so much trouble" (2) and insists he "never planned to become a `controversial religious leader,'" (3) he is the one to blame. He is the one who has shifted and engaged in this current theological endeavor. This theological enterprise is not accidentally garnering unwarranted criticism because there is nothing accidental about Brian's theological endeavor: Brian's book is a bold, intentional rhetorical tour de force that strikes at the very heart of the historic Christian faith, parodying the faith that both the Communion of Saints and the Spirit of God has given the 21st Century Church; his work pushes a version of Christianity that falls far outside the witness of the Holy Scriptures to Jesus Christ as exclusive Lord and Savior.
His portrayal of conservative evangelicalism is a gross caricature and unworthy of any serious thinker. He deliberately exaggerates and distorts the theology and exegesis of those with whom he disagrees in order to create an easy rhetorical jab called a Straw Man. As you probably know, a Straw Man is a logical fallacy that intentionally misrepresents an opponents position in order to easily strike it down in order to give the illusion that said opponent is defeated. Such rhetorical devices litter this book, making it an unworthy conversational partner.
Brian makes grand, sweeping claims with skimpy-to-no scholarly support. Perhaps this is why he insists over and over and over again that he had no formal seminary training? This is one of the most frustrating aspects of a book that asks us to take it seriously. For instance, his Greco-Roman narrative claims came to him not through research and scholarly reading, but through two conversations with two separate friends. (37)
Brian's interaction with the Holy Scriptures has no exegetical methodology. Instead he simply asks the reader to take his word for it. For example, his exegesis of John 14:6 is so innovative that he could find no commentary support for it. His presupposition re: the audience of The Book of Romans is just flat out wrong; the consensus among commentators is that Paul wrote the letter to converted Gentile Christians, not Jews.
While Brian claims otherwise, the new version of Christianity he pushes bears little to no resemblance to historic Christian orthodoxy, especially Nicene Christianity. In fact, he claims the creeds were mandated by the emperor to promote unity in the church and bring about imperial control. (12) Furthermore, by shoving Christian orthodoxy into his "Christian religion" rhetorical device, he is able to transcend the Christian faith entirely with a generalized "Kingdom of God" motif.
His portrayal of the Biblical narrative is Christless, centering squarely on Abraham and the Kingdom of God (which fits nicely with his view of the Abrahamic faiths as encapsulated in the nonprofit [...] on which he sits as Board member).
His view of Jesus Christ in no way affirms that He is God. Instead Brian reduces Him to a revelation of the "character of God." Jesus is no more than a model citizen.
His view of the Holy Scripture is not divine revelation, but purely human conversations in which people simple talk about their understanding of God and progressively, courageously "trade-up' (his words not mine) their understanding of God for even better images. Brian follows Pete Rollins' suggestion that our understanding of God is not actually the knowledge of God, but simply our understanding of God. Does God present Himself to us in the Text? Is He even saying anything to us in it? Can we really possess the knowledge of God? These questions seem to have a negative answer, though it isn't clear.
He rarely uses Jesus' messianic designation (Christ), which reflects his refusal to acknowledge Jesus Christ as exclusive Lord and Messiah. (So far he uses "Jesus" 204 times, "Jesus Christ" 3 time, and "Christ" 11 times.)
He consistently preemptively belittles those who will push against his innovative, new Christianity through gross ad hominems by reducing us to "gatekeepers" (103) anxious and paranoid (212-213), "religious thought police" (85), brainwashers (48), and people who are vulnerable to repeating yesterday's atrocities in the future (including anti-Semitism, genocide, and witch burning) (85), among many others charges.
While Brian feigns theological innocence by merely offering a "new way of believing," rather than a new set of beliefs (18), make no mistake about it: Brian is absolutely, unambiguously offering new beliefs. Though he may insist he is merely offering questions to inspire new conversations in the interest of a new quest, (18) he knows exactly what he is doing. He is disingenuous when he insists he is merely offering responses to his questions, rather than answers.
In the end, Brian's McLarenism faith isn't really about Jesus Christ, but about a vanilla, generalized World-Spirit god that has visited all other religions outside the Christian faith. Like his good buddy, Samir Selmanovic, Brian believes that Jesus and the reconciliation God offers to the world is not found only in the Christian faith (or "religion" as he puts it). In Selmonvic's book (a book Brian endorsed), Samir says, "We do believe that God is best defined by the historical revelation in Jesus Christ, but to believe that God is limited to it would be an attempt to manage God. If one holds that Christ is confined to Christianity, one has chosen a god that is not sovereign." (It's Really All About God, 129) Brian agrees.
In fact, it is clear his entire theological endeavor is a concerted effort to "pluralize" reconciliation to God and His Kingdom by divorcing it from Jesus Christ entirely, rather than insisting that reconciliation to both comes through Jesus Christ alone. While Brian uses the "Christian religion" as a rhetorical device to argue against "theo-containment," the One True God described in the Holy Scriptures is exclusively revealed in the very human, very divine Jesus Christ. It's really not all about God. It's really all about Jesus Christ.
As Karl Barth reminds us, "Any deviation, any attempt to evade Jesus Christ in favour of another supposed revelation of God, or any denial of the fulness of God's presence in Him, will precipitate us into darkness and confusion."(CD II,1:319) There is little evidence Brian believes that the fulness of God's presence is exclusively in Jesus Christ, that salvation and rescue and reconciliation is found in no other name under heaven besides His.
After Jesus, there is nothing left. And after Brian's new kind of Christianity, neither is Jesus Christ.
See full 11 post review at [...]
37 of 52 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Intellectual History Lite,
Brian McLaren has put his finger on a problem--the ontotheological critique of western Christendom by Nietzsche and others--but unfortunately he doesn't have either the chops or the perspective to address it even adequately, let alone cogently. This problem, which is behind the disintegration of Modernism and the rise of Postmodernism, is a genuine problem, which many Christians have felt, but which few have had the capability of understanding, let alone providing a solution for, the difficulties it raises. The answer to the problem certainly is not the "emerging church" or similar Postmodern projects, as McLaren and a host of other post-evangelical Protestants would like to think. The truth of the matter is that no one knows what the solution to the Nietzschian critique of ontotheology is. Louis Dupré in Passage to Modernity and Michael Allen Gillespie in The Theological Origins of Modernity present compelling analyses of the processes at work that produced Modernity and Postmodernity and their effect on Christianity. Jean-Luc Marion in God Without Being (and subsequent works) sketches out a path that may prove fruitful in addressing the Nietzschian critique. Bernard Lonergan in Insight and Method in Theology provides a basis for reconceiving cognition theory that enables thinkers to get beyond some of the paradoxes inherent in Nietzsche's critique of ontotheology as well as the dualities inherent in Enlightenment thinking that has been picked up by Ben Meyer and N. T. Wright in relation to New Testament studies that enables them to get beyond the false dichotomy of "the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith" which has dominated Jesus studies from Reimerus to The Jesus Seminar. But a new perennial theology, even within the Catholic Church, has yet to win the day. Perhaps something will emerge from John Paul II's "Christian existentialism" or personalism combined with Hans Urs von Balthasar's Theo-Drama, but nothing definitive has yet appeared on the scene.
McLaren is right about one thing: Protestantism is intimately bound up with the Modernist project, and that is likely why so many younger Protestants feel uneasy about its theological origins and current expressions, wrapped up as they are in the discarded paradigm of Modernism. The author is far less convincing when he gets down to specifics, as in this passage (p.7): "My disillusionment was intensified by what was happening in the Christian community in America during the 1980s and 1990s. A large number of both Protestant and Catholic leaders had aligned with a neoconservative political ideology, trumpeting what they called 'conservative family values,' but minimizing biblical community values. They supported wars of choice, defended torture, opposed environmental protection, and seemed to care more about protecting the rich from taxes than liberating the poor from poverty or minorities from racism. They spoke against big government as if big was bad, yet they seemed to see big military and big business as inherently good. They wanted to protect unborn human life inside the womb, but didn't seem to care about born human life in slums or prisons or nations they considered enemies. They loved to paint gay people as a threat to marriage, seeming to miss the irony that heterosexual people were damaging marriage at a furious pace without any help from gay couples. . . . They interpreted the Bible to favor the government of Israel and marginalize Palestinians, and even before September 11, 2001, I feared that through their influence Muslims were being cast as the new scapegoats, targets of a scary kind of religiously inspired bigotry." Perhaps I may be forgiven if this critique by McLaren sounds rather uncannily like baptized left wing Democratic Obamaism.
It would take too much space to unpack and deconstruct the ideology behind this rant, but I'd like to focus on a couple things. Typical of McLaren's approach, he loves to set up false dichotomies, such as the Prolife movement protecting "unborn life inside the womb, but [not caring] about born human life in slums or prisons or nations they considered their enemies." First of all, is there something wrong with being clear about the inherent evil of the willful destruction of human offspring, as seems to be the point of this observation by McLaren? Secondly, if a movement's efforts are focused on eradicating a particular evil, does that necessarily mean that those in the movement are insufficiently aware of other evils? Should abolitionists be taken to task because they weren't focused on the evil of child labor? Thirdly, the vast majority of Prolife people I know are very concerned about human life outside the womb. Fourthly, the comment about "nations they considered enemies" seems to assume that America has no enemies, a terminally naïve outlook in view of, e.g., Iran's, North Korea's, and Venezuela's aggressive hostility toward the U.S., and the incredibly simplistic foreign policy assumptions and pathetic results of Obama's apology-for-America tour. McLaren's statement about neoconservatives "loving to paint gay people as a threat to marriage" suffers from similar idiocies. From a Catholic standpoint at least (not to mention all Christian churches prior to Anglicanism caving on birth control at Lambeth in 1930), gay "marriage" is an oxymoron since one of the essential ends of marriage, namely procreation, is impossible per se in homosexual relationships, so there can be no such thing as a gay "marriage." A Christian might believe and want to adopt such views as McLaren does in this passage, but to assume they're demanded by a proper Christian understanding, and not the product of as heavily an enculturated point of view as "neoconservatism," as McLaren seems to do, is either immature or disingenuous.
Additionally, it seems as if McLaren tars an awfully large group of people with the pejorative (and wildly Protean) term "neoconservative." Indeed, persons who would seem to have little or no connection, such as Jerry Falwell and Richard John Neuhaus, are apparently lumped together. Who exactly are these nefarious neoconservatives? Michael Novak, George Weigel, Hadley Arkes, Joseph Bottum, David B. Hart, Mary Eberstadt, Mary Ann Glendon? The entire staff of and contributors to First Things? Are all these thoughtful people really to be herded into the same intellectual corral with the more egregious examples of the Christian right and simply dismissed?
There are many other problems with this book, such as McLaren's simplistic reduction of the problem of ontotheology in western theology to its being captive to a "Greco-Roman" thought paradigm; his apparent inability to see what his kind of critique of western theology does to the person of Jesus, for example, what do we do with a Greek term like homoosius describing Jesus' relationship to the Father in the Nicene Creed? (McLaren devotes two chapters to the question of Jesus without seeming to be aware of what his reconceptualization does to historic orthodoxy regarding who Jesus is); his apparent enfranchisement of gay sexual acts as an acceptable expression of human diversity where he blithely talks throughout the book about gay sexuality as if it's simply a human rights issue, a question of Christians unjustly marginalizing and stigmatizing legitimate human sexual behavior, without regard to questions about the nature of marriage in its twofold end of procreativity and unity of the spouses; his silly color-coding of intellectual history which front-loads his own progressivist ideas while relegating those who disagree with his analysis to the dust-heap of history; and, most annoyingly, his constant condescension of assuming the superiority of his own agenda without taking the trouble to establish it, most notably in this passage near the end of the book (p.257): "You can either criticize my responses from a distance . . . or you can come to the table, join the conversation, and make your own contribution. Be assured, if you come in that spirit of collegial contribution and creative collaboration, many of us will be eager to hear what you have to offer as we journey forward together. . . .Wherever that willingness to rethink has been squelched, wherever that sense of quest has been buried under convention and complacency, the Christian faith in all its forms is in trouble." This sounds a lot like Obama's phony invitation to Republicans to come to the table about health care reform, which Jonah Goldberg rightly called "an infomercial in disguise." I especially like this line: "Be assured, if you come in that spirit of collegial contribution and creative collaboration, many of us will be eager to hear what you have to offer as we journey forward together. . . . Wherever that willingness to rethink has been squelched, wherever that sense of quest has been buried under convention and complacency, the Christian faith in all its forms is in trouble." What happens if you come to the table with fundamental problems with the McLaren paradigm and analysis? I guess you're a troglodyte, whose "willingness to rethink has been squelched, [whose] sense of quest has been buried under convention and complacency, [whose] Christian faith . . . is in trouble."
How about if I come to the table rejecting McLaren's thesis and explanation? How about if I've got the goods to back up my point of view, and not of the pseudo-hip, tendentious, question-begging, soft-spoken-yet-secretly-intolerant variety that characterizes McLaren's approach? Will I be welcome at the table? In any case, I don't think I'd be invited, not being an "Emergent Christian."
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A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith by Brian D. McLaren (Paperback - February 1, 2011)