Brian D. McLaren
This is a very important and timely book. Many are so tired of how Christianity has been co-opted, they’ve opted out of Christianity all together.
Others have “watered down” their identity to the point of making it meaningless. Brian believes we do not have to choose between a “Strong, hostile” Christianity and a “Weak, benign” Christianity.
There is a third way, he proposes, of a “Strong, benevolent” Christian identity; one that can love, respect, and walk along side those of other faiths without needing to convert them, or be converted by them.
He proposes that we can find common ground, since no one religion has a monopoly on God. And we better understand the “kingdom of God,” as the commonwealth of God.”
The suggestions written here are not all theory or conjecture. Brian has put this walking-with-the-other into practice.
Early on we look at “Conflicted Religious Identity Syndrome (CRIS).” This is where we know “there is something good and real in [our] faith,” and yet we can no longer abide the “hostility toward the cherished religions of [our] non-Christian neighbors.” This, in part, is what caused Anne Rice to proclaim “In the name of Christ…I quit Christianity.”
We look in detail at the “Us – Them” mentality that has caused such horrors throughout history. We see that the histories that are told, who tells them, and where they start the story, shapes our worldview. We look at the historical realities of Christopher Columbus to illustrate the point. Of course, in this type of discussion, there’s also no way around talking about the almost unimaginable influence of Emperor Constantine on Christianity, from which we’ve still not escaped.
In another section, an amazing section, we imagine new ways to interpret and practice the beloved doctrines of Christianity; ways that are, in fact, more in line with the life and teachings of Jesus.
The chapter in the section on baptism was awe-inspiring. It makes me want to get baptized again, with this new, fuller, and better understanding.
The chapters of the next section cover our liturgical practices. We see how our liturgies can camouflage injustice, usually without our even being conscience of it. But we also discover how we can participate in holy celebrations in ways that are loving and inclusive without giving up our own identity and convictions.
McLaren gives many good suggestions for transforming Lent, Easter, Christmas, and other Christian traditions.
And, of immense importance, we are challenged to “read and teach the Bible responsibly and ethically, following the strong and benevolent examples of Paul and Jesus.
We will pick all passages that advocate hostility, vengeance, exclusion, elitism, and superiority to remind us of where we would be if not for Christ.
And we will choose all passages that advocate reconciliation, empathy, inclusion, solidarity, and equality to remind us of where we are going and who we are called to be in Christ.”
“The Missional Challenge” portion looks at what “missions” has meant, versus the actual missions to which we are called. There is a huge, grave difference between trying to convert others to your religion, and doing the hard work of love, healing, and justice that Jesus actually taught.
Let me say, although this book is primarily directed to Christians, the principles apply to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, and, well pretty much everybody. (One of the “recommendations” listed is from a Rabbi.)
I know many seem to think that a benevolent approach is all about compromising beliefs, being wishy-washy, etc. etc.
“It doesn’t matter what you believe,”
“All roads lead to God,” and so on.
I must admit, at one time I also thought that way. Hey, that’s what I was taught. This new book from Brian McLaren goes a long way toward showing that nothing could be further from the truth. It’s like Papa said in The Shack: “Most roads don’t lead anywhere, [but] I will travel any road to find you.”
Not everyone is comfortable with lack-of-conflict. As Brian states, “There are few actions better guaranteed to engender conflict than proposing love and understanding for those identified as outsiders and enemies.”
But for those willing to take the chance, they will find a better Christian identity. A truer Christian identity. One rooted in Christ-likeness, expressing “Christ-like character, Christ-like vision, and Christ-like virtues and values,” treating others with “understanding, respect, human-kindness, [and] benevolence.”
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– The stronger our Christian faith, the more goodwill we will feel and show toward those of other faiths, seeking to understand and appreciate their religion from their point of view.
– I have no doubt that Jesus would actually practice the neighborliness he preached rather than follow our example of religious supremacy, hostility, fear, isolation, misinformation, exclusion, or demonization.
– Jesus himself spoke pithily and often about religious absurdity. He surely elicited some laughs when he portrayed religious leaders as straining at gnats and swallowing camels, whitewashing tombs, scrubbing only the outside of a filthy bowl, and so on. His whole ministry was a kind of guerrilla theatre.
– God is not a doctrine to be mastered but a mystery to be mastered by.
– We are increasingly faced with a choice, I believe, not between kindness and hostility, but between kindness and nonexistence.
– [A] gracious space of solidarity…is what Jesus called “The kingdom of God.”
– There is nothing that hurts any religion today more than it’s own establishment.
– The tensions between our conflicted religions arise not from out differences, but from one thing we all hold in common: an oppositional religious identity that derives strength from hostility.
– [We must] go through a profound rethinking of our history.
– A distorted doctrine of chosen-ness tells many sincere but misguided Christian Zionists that the Jews have been chosen by God to own certain land without concern for the well-being of their non-Jewish neighbors. Sadly, Christians, Muslims, and Jews, for all their differences, have imitated each other again and again in misunderstanding and misapplying this doctrine of chosen-ness.
– Jesus has often been presented as a weapon and a threat, more wolf of God than lamb of God, filled more with the spirit of a hawk than a dove, more avenger of heretics than friend of sinners.
– [We must be] willing to challenge violent and exclusive conceptions of God in light of the nonviolent and inclusive way of Christ.
– When this benevolent logos comes, full of grace and truth, we do not welcome him. We reject him. We kill him, in the name of our preferred and familiar logos of hostility and violence.
– We can understand human religions — all human religions, including our own — as imperfect human responses to our encounters with the Spirit who is present in all creation.
– [In the story we call “The Prodigal Son,”] The lost son is the older son. He’s the one who doesn’t know who he is, where he is, or what he’s doing. He’s the only outsider – – placed there by his own refusal to love.
– A baptism of repentance means a radical, far-reaching rethinking of everything.
– To be truly “in Christ” does not mean embracing “yet another identity,” but rather “lay(ing) down the various identities that would otherwise define us.” [McLaren with Peter Rollins]
– For Jesus, the rich man’s appathy about the poor man’s poverty was a damnable offense.
– Interpretation will always to some degree manifest the character of the interpreter.
– Liberation is the best one-word synonym for salvation.
– Charity will also lead to advocacy — speaking and working on behalf of the voiceless and powerless, using the tools of local, national, and global citizenship to work for the common good.