Some people are scared to read Brian McLaren. This gentle, unassuming man with a Santa-like glimmer in his eye has become a lightning rod of controversy. He’s been labeled a heretic, dangerous and unbiblical. He’s also been called a leading voice, a spiritual activist and an elder statesman of the emerging church. So who is Brian McLaren?
His latest book, A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIANITY, provides backdrop to his spiritual and personal story and explores a series of practical and theological questions that the people of faith everywhere find themselves wrestling with. The foundational question McLaren raises is how we approach the Bible. He examines the overarching story line of Scripture and points out that the foundation for many people’s beliefs is a hybrid of Greco-Roman thinking and belief that influences the way we understand and live out our faith today. He challenges readers that the Bible should be read less as a legal constitution --- with particular scriptures being used to bully others --- and more as a “community library” in the context of relationship and living out our faith.
McLaren also tackles topics such as “Is God Violent?”, “Who Is Jesus and Why Is He Important?” and “What Is the Gospel?” in various chapters. His responses will infuriate some, challenge others, and affirm what many have thought on their own. But it’s the final five questions that hit the most hot button issues. McLaren raises the issue of “What Do We Do About the Church” and challenges the way many view the modern church. He also addresses eschatology in “Can We Find a Better Way of Viewing the Future?” and living in a pluralistic society in “How Should Followers of Jesus Relate to People of Other Religions?” Along the way, he discusses politics, public policy and the way we interpret specific passages of Scripture. The bombshell chapter of the book, however, is “The Sex Question,” in which he asks, “Can We Find a Way to Address Human Sexuality Without Fighting About It?”
Overall, A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIANITY is incredibly well written, engaging, thoughtful and provoking. McLaren has a knack for writing in such a way that you want to pinch his cheeks and give him a bear hug. For all it does accomplish, make no mistake: this is a polarizing book. Some readers will be angered by his open-endedness, which hints at universalism. Others will find issue with his dismissal of traditional Christian beliefs. While the book raises a number of questions --- all of which have been asked before --- many will find themselves still wondering, “But what do we do now?”
Yes, some people are scared to read Brian McLaren, but those who refuse to do so should be feared even more. Why? Because they’re excluding themselves from having a voice in one of the most significant conversations that will shape Christianity for years to come.
Reviewed by Margaret Oines on November 13, 2011