225Just starting "A New Kind of Christian"
- Oct 3, 2001Just staring "A New Kind..." I picked up the book in a seminary
library when I caught sight of the book jacket in the library's "new
books" display. I knew of Brian McLaren's name from years ago, and
wondered whether that could be the same Brian McLaren. Yes, it was.
I had to read it, naturally, if only out of curiosity. But it was
really for much more than that. The issues he's dealing with are the
issues I've been wrestling with, together with some friends, for
on years now.
I teach in a Bible college in a former republic of the USSR. One
refreshing aspect of life over there is that their way of thinking hs
not been crammed into the classical western calvinist/arminian
dichotomy. They live - at the risk of using trendy talk - outside
box. For Americans going over there, this is often incomprehensible.
We have been taught, explicitly, that an "ethical" Christian MUST
stake out a "position", one or the other. You can't be a real
Christian without membership in one of those "modern conceptual
cathedrals" Brian mentions in chapter three (that's as far as I've
Two phrases that have become important to me in recent years are, 1)
SAYS WHO??? and 2) I DON'T KNOW. I'm tired, tired, tired of our
pronouncements on things that we really don't know the answer to. One
of my arguments against atheism is that, for there to be no God, and
for one to KNOW that there's no God, one has to have gone to that
place where such a God WOULD be if he DID exist and found him to be
not there. Who can claim to have done that? The only way you could
KNOW there's no God would be to have become virtually the God you
say doesn't exist. When an atheist says, "There's no God" he's only
displaying his ignorance (an ignorance which we Christians share in
large part with him), not a "knowledge". Well, we Christians have, to
a great degree, exhibited the same sort of hubris as the atheist,
making grand, theological, systematic, schematic and "biblically
supported" statements on things that we-really-don't-know. In that
we very much mirror the atheist's presumption.
The Christians where I live and work have a "Christianity" which
actually exists without any Arminian or Calvinist "foundation" -
imagine that. (And I realize this whole question about
and our faith isn't only about these theologies; I just offer this as
one example). Once some thoroughly Calvinistic Christians from Texas
came for a visit. One of these brothers bemoaned the theological
poverty of our Ukrainian brethren. "I don't intend to force them to
accept our point of view, but it IS sad that they don't understand
'assurance' - without it, how can you have the jo-o-o-oy?" And, yes,
"joy" was intoned in that low thunder way that indicates this is a
message straight from heaven, much as we often say, "Ga-a-a-awd". I
thought, "Just who are YOU to decide these believers have no joy
because they don't subscribe to a mental construct in which you find
your security (eternal or otherwise...)?" Allegiance to a conceptual
cathedral or allegiance to "God as He knows Himself to be" (and that
means "mostly unknown to us")?
Jesus said to the people of his day, "Where I am going, you cannot
go..." "Postmodernism" WOULD like, I think, in some of its concrete
manifestations, to say to the church, "Where we are going, you
and your Jesus cannot go...." I believe the great surprise that's
waiting to be unwrapped is that, wherever postmodernism takes us, and
whichever of our paradigms it demolishes, we will all find, somewhere
down that road, Jesus standing, saying with grin and with love, "You
thought I was behind you? I've been waiting here the longest time.
let's go...." I don't know who that will be the biggest (or
happiest) surprise to - the modern Christians or the postmodern
I have been back in America for a few months. One of the worst days
"reverse culture shock" I experienced was the day I visited a
Christian book store. On one side was a whole "Prayer of Jabez" (POJ)
display: POJ devotionals, POJ wallet cards, POJ throw pillows.... I
was physically revolted. Some people in the world would give their
right arm to have a Bible. We not only have Bibles (where you can
the prayer of Jabez if you want to, though it will be minus the
dubitable interpretations that have been attached to it); we have to
have Prayer of Jabez throw pillows, to assure ourselves that we are
"cutting-edge" Christians. And that's this month. Next month, after
the fad dies down, it will be something else. It has to be; after
this is business, folks, and there's a profit margin to be
In the same vein, the latest troubles in the world are BOUND to spawn
the same glutting of the market with every, single blessed "prophecy"
book ("Reprint! Joe Shmoe's 1982 groundbreaking work on biblical
prophecy, complete with a new, cutting-edge chapter on what GOD wants
you to know about Osama Bin Laden and the end times!!!"); that's what
happened in the Gulf War - the buck's gotta be made while it can.
a business; it's a living. Truth often has to take a back seat; sober
judgment almost always does. And all this time... the world is
watching us, watching us entertain, inspire, 'challenge' and purchase
ourselves into warm, cozy, insular Christian oblivion. And we wonder
why we can't reach them....
I turned from Prayer of Jabez display to see the opposite wall
stacked, for virtually the length of the store, with Yankee Jar
Candles. The immediate correlation with the faith escaped me, and my
nausea only worsened. I walked out of the store, literally dizzied.
No, I don't mean anything against candles and pretty scents. It's
just... it's just... well, I don't exactly have the words.
I forgot to mention: on my pass through the store I stumbled across
yet another "in" thing I missed while I've been out of the country.
I had heard of "Chicken Soup for the Soul". Now I see there is
soup not only for the soul but for the man's soul, the woman's soul,
the teenager's soul, the busy executive's soul, the couch potato's
soul, the pet-lover's soul, the pet's soul....
We want to know it all, have it all, be it all. We've forgotten that
only God can do that. If I fall, if I sin, I want to not only have
God's forgiveness, I want to know the exact spiritual/biblical/
soteriological/systematic mechanism by which God does that and what
its implications are for the way everybody else should think. It's
only that He forgives me, but He forgives me because I could NEVER
lose my salvation and it's only that I lose my "fellowship" with Him
(define that, put that on paper, draw the parameters of that, can
you?) until I confess (and there are plenty of recipes for exactly
right way to do that), or, if I am of another theological bent, it
mean that I am in danger of losing my salvation, and I need to confes
to assure my abiding in Him and, by the way, I'd better press on to
that state in which I will no longer sin, entire sanctification - and
the only indication that I've "arrived" is because I feel it and I
tell others so.... I can't help but think of the words from the
Catholic mass: Agnus Dei, miserere nobis, Agnus Dei, miserere nobis,
Agnus Dei, dona nobis pacem; Lamb of God, have mercy on us, Lamb of
God, have mercy on us, Lamb of God, grant us peace....