About Jesus Steve Sweetman
New Kind Of Christian” – Part 2
now comment on some specifics from Brian McLaren’s book entitled “A
New Kind Of Christian”. As
I said in part one of this review, the book is a dialogue between a
post-modern teacher/former pastor, and a very discouraged modern pastor.
The two men meet at a school event. The conversation soon turns
to the pastor’s frustration with church life.
I certainly understand the pastor’s discouragement, yet the
ultimate result of his discouragement leads him to post-modernism.
The Bible should dictate the way we think and live, not life’s
experiences as in the pastor’s case.
I were to help this pastor, I would walk through his frustrations with
him, as did the teacher. Along the way I’d point him to Scripture for
the answers. Of course the
post-modern teacher would say that he’s already tried that approach
and it didn’t work. McLaren,
through the teacher specifically says that the Bible is not an answer
book or a road map for life’s journey.
I differ with McLaren and post-modernism on this point.
I believe the Bible has lots of
speaks to the need to have a 21st century faith. I
think he might be missing the point to what faith is all about.
I do believe we need to express our faith in a 21st
century way, but expressing faith and faith itself are two different
things. I think McLaren is
on the verge of redefining faith in this book.
Christian faith is simply “trusting Jesus with your life”.
That’s it. It’s
I’d think any post-modern Christian should like the simplicity
of that. It doesn’t matter
what century we live in, trust is trust, and trust doesn’t change.
We don’t need a 21st century faith as McLaren
suggests. We need a New
Testament faith – a first century faith.
Yes, express your faith in a 21st century way, but
let’s not think about redefining faith, as I think McLaren is doing.
thinks we’re heading back to a more mystical approach to church which
was evident from the second century onward.
The modern church is more like the Industrial Age of history.
It’s too mechanical, McLaren says. I
tend to agree. McLaren would
say we’ve tried the analytical approach to Biblical thinking for
centuries and that hasn’t
worked, so we need to add some mysticism to both our individual lives
and to our churches. I’d
suggest that we’ve already forsaken the analytical approach to the
Bible and church in many respects in recent times.
I think we’re so far removed from Biblical thinking in many
respects that we have little clue what Biblical thinking really is.
views the mysticism and other practices found in the second and third
century as something to aspire to. I’ve
always viewed this age of church history as the beginning of the
departure from New Testament thinking that led to the paganization of
frustrated pastor asked himself why his life with Jesus had become so
mundane. That’s easy to
figure out. Human nature
loses interest in everything at some point. It’s up to us to regain
the interest we lost, and despite McLaren’s approach to the Bible, the
Bible does have the answer to this problem. In
Revelation 2:5 Jesus says that if we “repent and do the things we did
at first” we’d regain our first love.
Just sit down and think about the things you did when you first
came to Jesus. Do those
things again, in today’s context, and you’ll regain that which
you’ve lost. The
post-modernist probably wouldn’t study the Bible closely enough to see
Jesus’ answer to mediocrity.
one point in the book the post-modern teacher asks the modern pastor,
“so did it work?” There’s
nothing wrong with this question. It
gets us thinking about the issues. Yet
it is important to have a proper frame of reference when asking this
question. As I have said
elsewhere, Christians aren’t pragmatic.
We don’t do things because they work.
We do things because Jesus tells us to do them. Therefore
the frame of reference to this question should be to do what the Bible
says, not what we think works.
speaks about Paul becoming all things to all people in order to win some
(1 Corinthians 9:22). He
suggests that Paul compromised central truths of his faith in order to
win others to his side, but that’s not so.
Paul did not change who he had become in Christ or the
gospel message in order to win people.
He was flexible in the things that really didn’t matter in the
long run. That’s how he became all things to all people. Paul
thought that any man who changed the gospel should be cursed (Galatians
1:9). I think McLaren is
beginning to redefine faith and the gospel.
teaches that if we preach to those in other cultures, we should present
Jesus, not our culture. For example, don’t try to make Muslims into
Americans. I agree with
that, but sometimes culture and religion are so intertwined that you
can’t separate the two. That’s where I believe McLaren has it wrong.
tells the story of some North American Christian native men.
Every so often they gather around a campfire, strip themselves
naked before the fire and pour water over the fire. The resulting misty
steam that falls over them symbolizes spiritual cleansing.
This is a native religious cleansing ritual that these men have
Christianized. McLaren sees
nothing wrong with this because that’s their culture.
I see this quite differently.
This ritual is more than culture.
It’s religious. In this instance you can’t separate culture
clearly says that he would eat meat offered to idols, but he wouldn’t
eat meat in the context of a pagan ritual (1 Corinthians 8). Paul
would not participate in a pagan ritual, even if it was Christianized,
and neither should Christians today.
If you read the history of post-Babylonian Jews, God was very
addresses sin when he speaks of the woman caught in adultery in John 8.
He says that she was less of a sinner
than the Pharisees. Well,
the text doesn’t say that. Jesus
said that both the Pharisees and the woman sinned, and that all parties
should stop sinning. Consequences
of sin vary from sin to sin, but no matter what sin we’re talking
about, it’s still sin, and it separates us from God.
Let’s not devalue sin by making it less serious than it is.
heard people call McLaren a Universalist. That’s someone who believes
there is no eternal punishment for the sinner.
I was waiting for the subject to come up. It
did come up a few times with sufficient vagueness that I wondered if he
really was a Universalist. He
finally states his position in no uncertain terms near the end of the
book, much like a modernist would do.
He believes that we’ll all end up in the same place, somewhere
in the presence of God. There
is no eternal punishment in a Lake
of Fire. He says that what we
become in this life is what we’ll be in the next life. If
we’re righteous now, we’ll be righteous then.
If we’re miserable sinners now, we’ll be miserable sinners
then. The sinner will be
miserable in the next life because he’s not enjoying the presence of
God as those around him are. There’s
no hint of punishment in his version of Universalism.
biggest problem I have with Brian McLaren in this book is that I believe
he devalues the importance of the Bible with his post-modern approach to
the Bible. He’d certainly
think I’m off base with my more analytical approach to Biblical
thinking that leads me to believe the
didn’t take a post-modern approach to Scripture.
He scolded the Pharisees for not properly
understanding and interpreting their Scriptures (Mark 12:24). Once
you devalue the Bible, you open yourself up to anything that comes
fear about this book is that many of McLaren’s readers will take his
thinking a few steps farther than he does.
Since McLaren is so close to the edge in my thinking, his readers
will fall over the edge with the extra
steps they take. I’m sure
many readers have done just that.