Brian . . . you kind of broke my heart

Posted: December 20, 2010 in books, faith, religion
Tags: , , ,

I would like to consider myself a reasonably avid reader – although I would honestly like to be an even more avid reader if it were not for the Siren’s song that is the Daily Show/Colbert Report duo which ensnares me nightly – that tries to read things that will challenge my ways of thinking so I will continue to grow as a person.  In that pursuit I have read a lot of ministry related books by ministry related authors that a number of others in my circles would probably like declared anathema.  Fitting squarely into that category are the many works I have read, owned, and loved by Brian McLaren.  While I served on the Board for Faith and Life for the Mennonite Brethren Conference of Saskatchewan I received at least a few requests for his books to be banned from our church libraries altogether – requests which I was quite firmly against.

I can not say that I have read everything that he has written, but I’ve read at least seven or eight different books he has penned in his writing career and have been challenged and pushed to be better by all of them.  I deeply appreciate his heart for bringing Christianity to the world we now live in and attempting to frame it in terms that are meaningful and bring the God’s story to a world that needs him deeply.  I will not question or try to besmirch the man’s character or intentions for a moment.  I think he is truly doing and teaching what he believes to be true and right.  For years I have enjoyed being challenged by his often purposely ambiguous forays into questioning commonly and traditionally held views of the Christian faith.  I have spent hours and hours defending his work and assertions with friends and strangers, and that makes this all the more difficult because his new book A New Kind of Christianity has broken and is breaking my heart.

Many of his previous books were notorious for their ambiguity on a number of subjects, many of the most popular of his works being written in a kind of pseudo-fictional style allowing him to broach subjects thought untouchable without coming out and directly asserting anything.  This was great for starting discussions – which I believe was his real aim – but was not as great for helping people to clearly understand what he was actually trying to get at at times.  A New Kind of Christianity is an attempt to get past the murkiness and state exactly what he thinks the real discussions need to center around as the faith moves forward.  I will not try to get to everything that I have real concerns and heartaches over to this point as they would be far too numerous to get to here (I’m actually keeping them in a file that I plan on mailing to him in a letter once I’ve finished the book completely.) so I will suffice it to say that he has succeeded in confirming a number the worst case scenarios of his version of Christianity that I had maybe naively denying would be the case.  Whether it is his view of the nature of God, Jesus, Scripture, or even the over arching narrative of God’s story as a whole many of my biggest concerns have been confirmed instead of laid to rest.  If you want to discuss things more in depth, read the book and we will get together a book club of sorts.

Brian,

I want to love you as a brother in Christ, but the version of the faith you are espousing in this book is looking less and less like a faith I can accept as being faithful to Jesus or the story of God I believe is revealed in Scripture through the Holy Spirit by the page and chapter.  I promise I will write you to let you know everything I am struggling with, and I will still listen to you into the future, but your version of Christianity is look less and less like a viable answer to the problems our faith faces in this world.  I love your heart for people, ministry, mission and desire for truth, but the God you seem to be following is looking less and less like the one I do or could follow.

Sadly yours,

Ben

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Comments
  1. Daryl says:

    Wow, having have read quite a few of his books in the past, but none in the past year or so, I feel like I might have to read this book to see what all the fuss is about.

    If you want a better read, check out Francis Chan’s books if you haven’t already.

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  2. colin says:

    I’m interested to hear what you find so unsettling in ANKOC. Please elaborate.

    I read this, and the sequels, back when they first came out nearly a decade ago. At the time I really appreciated these books because Brian was willing to address the hard issues that I was grappling with. He didn’t give pat answers and was honest about the critiques out there. More importantly, at the time it provided a framework and a way at looking at the christianity that allowed me to keep the pieces together. I had already jettisoned the infallibility of scripture as a doctrine because it was unsustainable and I was increasingly concerned with a genocidal, blood thirsty, and maniacal deity who purposed to split families – fathers from sons, mothers from daughters. ANKOC and TSWFOI helped weave a more sustainable view of Christianity. While, admittedly, it was still inefficient for my continued inquiry and sustaining my faith, it was, for a few years, a working solution for the increasing problems I had with Christianity.

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    • fleebabylon says:

      Yet the call of Christ is not for you to come to a suitable mental conclusion on such matters… because your problem is a moral one, not intellectual. The one true God of the Bible calls you to turn from your sin and trust Him as your savior. When you are truly born again and the Holy Spirit lives inside you you will not need the flattering lies of goat herders such as Brian Mclaren to sooth your religous flesh.

      The cross upon which the king of glory was slaughtered for the sins of His people is a foolish message to those who are perishing.

      -Jim

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      • colin says:

        Really Jim? Really?

        Thanks for vomiting all over this comment thread.

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      • fleebabylon says:

        Colin-

        You drink down the unbiblical vomit that BM sells but call me out like that? Hmm. Google “A false reformation called emergent” sometime… and I wasnt meaning to personally attack you incase it came off that way. I was speaking of those who accept the antichrist teachings of emergent wolves in general but I know I didnt state it that way.

        -Jim

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      • colin says:

        JIm – Ben is trying to articulate his theological concerns with ANKOC, I would like to hear these concerns. You, however, have said nothing to contribute to this discussion. You have only regurgitated out a long winded tract which does not address this discussion aside from a back-handed ad-hominem dismissal of McLaren.

        You are right, though, my issues with christianity were intellectual. I also had moral issues with christianity because of the maniacal and blood thirsty diety of the sacred texts.

        But I am not trying to defend that position here. There are lots of people arguing this all over the internets. Feel free to find those threads and comment.

        My point in highlighting my spiritual journey out of christianity is to articulate that McLaren help make sense of the shit and provide a better framework to understand chrsitnaity and keep the faith (at least for a while). Certainly it wasn’t enough to plug all the holes, but for others that I know, this framework, has been enough to plug the holes to keep the faith.

        At the core of this, I believe, is the doctrine of the inherency of scripture. McLaren paints a world where Christianity can sustain itself, even without the inherency of the bible. (which incidentally is the position of virtually every other varient of christendom outside of evangelicalism) Why is this important? It is important because every faith, needs to satisfy intellectual inquiry through history, literature and science. This, I believe, is what McLaren is attempting to accomplish with ANKOC.

        [and yes, I have read all the ‘false preachers’, ‘the sky is falling’ articles out there. sadly none of them appear to be coherent in articulating an argument against McLaren or the emergent movement. They all appear to be an editorialized collection of proof texted scriptures which are presented as ‘evidence’]

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  3. benyamen says:

    Sorry it’s taken me a while to get back on all this but between holidays and the Christmas season here at the church my free time has been sparse.

    Colin – Just to be perfectly clear here my issues this post addresses come with much of what I have read in “A New Kind of Christianity (2010)”, not “A New Kind of Christian (2004)”. I read A New Kind of Christian when it came out years ago and although I had fairly deep reservations about his universalism (everyone goes to heaven but it just feels like hell to those not in love with Jesus) and his view of atonement (saying Jesus had to die for sin is “divine child abuse”) I think that he had a number of invaluable ideas regarding the acceptance of those we differ with and the nature and mission of the church.
    Many of his books contained (admittedly) purposely vague theology so as not to distract from his main points, but in his new work “A New Kind of Christianity” he gets rid of much of the vagueness and what is left leaves me feeling unsettled about much of his theology (nature of Scripture, view of Christ, view of salvation, view of nature of God, view of over-arching biblical narrative, and others) although I still love his heart for those who are not following Christ and his desire to make the gospel accessible and meaningful to the larger world.
    To answer the two points you mentioned in particular:
    – Regarding the innerrancy of Scripture, I wouldn’t go quite as far as he does in – in my view – reducing it to merely a collection of general ethical ideas, but being a Mennonite – and not technically a member of the evangelical community – we have traditionally held more to the idea of Scripture as being “reliable” more than inerrant. There are admittedly some things which have been lost in translation and time, but the Scriptures are still reliable for teaching and training and hearing from God as we are enlightened by his Holy Spirit.
    – Regarding the blood thirsty nature of God, I don’t really have an issue with this per se. I think any time that we hold – as I believe it to be – the creator of the universe and everything in it under our own modern western sensibilities regarding ethics instead of submitting to the idea that he is above our own ethical holdings then we step beyond ourselves and own place in this universe.
    Thanks for your thoughts and I’d look forward to talking to you more about all this if you wish.

    Jim – I don’t know if I know you or not, so it’s tough to place exactly where you are coming from with your comments or what you are trying to accomplish. Are you saying that I am not a true believer and follower of Christ because I have read works of Brian McLaren and think he has at least some positive messages to offer the Christian faith? If that is the case without even knowing me I think that is quite unfair and uncharitable and there are a lot of God honoring spirit filled believers who would disagree with you on that point, including the Spirit of God that lives within me having sealed me for salvation. If you are not making this assertion about me and I am misunderstanding you than I appologize and hope to better understand you.
    Beyond that though I think it is quite unfair to Scripture, the gospel and Jesus himself to apparently state that the gospel message is intellectually untenable but should be submitted to none the less. I believe the passage you are paraphrasing here from 1 Corinthians 1 is not at all saying the gospel is intellectually foolish or unreasonable – as Paul often reasoned with the Greeks he was preaching to – so much as it is saying the ideas and mode of Jesus coming and dying for sins seems crazy to those who thought they had already understood the means of salvation through the Messiah.
    Although I agree with you the Brian has some teachings that I would consider to be wrong and even dangerous I think we do ourselves and our faith a great disservice when we write off someone altogether without listening to the bits of truth and wisdom they do have to offer us.

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  4. Colin says:

    aha! My mistake! How embarrassing.

    In any event, my purpose was not to engage in debate around the inherency of scripture of the doctrine of mob-boss god. I only used those examples as references to my problems I had had with christianity and how ANKOC (2001) helped weave a better picture.

    I went back and did some reading about ANKOC (2010). Admittedly, I’m out of sink with the evangelical publishing circuit. It appears to be a daring piece of work and will likely end his evangelical writing career. Alternatively, it will help shape the next decade of evangelicalism. I certainly applaud him in his attempt to stop with the ‘patch’ job of christian doctrine and instead reassemble the pieces in a more sustainable model that fits with the 21st century. In many ways he sounds more like Spong – which probably won’t win him any points in the evangelical/protestant community.

    Here’s my take though: like Spong, he has his whole identity wrapped up in the evangelical movement. His entire career and professional life has been wrapped around a belief system. Everything they have has been invested in this belief system. Unlike Dan Barker or Gordon Atkinson (or even myself?) they do not have alternate careers to fall back on. Therefore, instead of committing vocation bankruptcy the next best alternative is to find some value, some remnant, something that can be salvaged and make that real and therefore keep the profession.

    I applaud McLaren for trying this. Clearly he can no longer live with the old maps, the old sayings, the old liturgy. And like a pastor, he is gathering those of like mind and trying to chart a new course and make sense of it all. He is trying dearly to hold onto his identity instead of jettisoning everything that he knows and start from scratch.

    But that’s just my skeptical take on things 🙂

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    • benyamen says:

      In all honesty Colin, Brian’s “evangelical” writing career has been done for a half a decade or more already. With the end of his trilogy it was pretty much understood that he wasn’t really evangelical. He may have been born and raised in that camp, but in reality most of what he writes is a form of neo-liberalism in a baptist robe.

      The new kind of Christianity that he espouses I don’t think is all that daring really when put in the context of historical Christianity, it’s just another more liberal schism under the name of “emergent” as opposed to “liberal”. I know he and his contemporaries buck at that moniker as they all come out of evangelical roots, but when you get down to the base of what they are espousing it’s not really anything new at all, it’s just a rebranding of what has formerly been done. I think he still has a lot of important things to offer and push evangelicals to think about, but to say that he is a new form of evangelicalism for the future I think is really tantamount to saying the apple is the new way forward for the orange.

      I would love to give him the same kind of grace here that you have, but in reality he hasn’t pastored in a church in at least half a decade as he now makes his living in writing and speaking engagements. I don’t think he’s really trying to lead evangelicals forward anymore so much he is trying to create a new vein of Christianity that may be able to drag a few outlying evangelicals along with him. The “emergent” thing as a movement in evangelicalism really has kind of fallen on it’s face over the past 2-3 years to the point those in the movement won’t even use the word anymore. I think they have had their place in challenging evangelicalism to be more missional and outward oriented in their thinking and have made a positive impact in many regards, but to think this is the future of evangelicalism as opposed to just another sectarian movement away from it is probably incorrect. However, we’ll see how time plays all things out.

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