About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

Home Page

“A New Kind Of Christian” – Part 2


I’ll 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.       


If 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  answers.   


McLaren 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 not  complicated.  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.   


McLaren 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.   


McLaren 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 the church. 


The 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.


At 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.


McLaren 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.


McLaren 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. 


He 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 from religion.    


Paul 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 angry with Israel for mixing paganism with their religion.  Christianizing a pagan ritual is in fact “participating in demonic activity” as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:20, but that’s not new.  We’ve  secularized and paganized the church  for centuries.  I can’t blame that on post-modernism.  


McLaren 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.   


I’ve 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.


The 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 Lake of Fire is a real place.  I’m sure he wouldn’t view himself as devaluing the Bible, but I believe he is. 


Jesus 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 along.       


My 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.

Home Page