A New Kind of Christian -- The Trilogy
The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of A New Kind of Christian
The Last Word and the Word After That: A Tale of Faith, Doubt, and a New Kind of Christianity
I already wrote a little about the first book by Brian McLaren. The other two are more of the story of Dan and Neil and friends as they muddle their way through the shift to postmodernity. The second includes a retelling of the Old Testament. The third includes an exploration of the meaning of Jesus’s life and ministry. I just finished them all, in the new paperback edition from Jossey-Bass, thanks to The Ooze Select Bloggers book reviewing program.
Other people have written about this trilogy to describe how this is different from other kinds of Christianity. I can only guess at how shocking it all is to people steeped in fundamentalist Christianity. For me, raised in the mildest form of Christianity, having left even that, and now coming back, hungry for more, it barely raises an eyebrow. I’m interested in how these books and the various theories outlined can help me to articulate an understanding of Christianity that I can own, heart and mind. Heresy trials are just not that important to me – that’s probably why I fit as a liberal Quaker.
None of the theories of atonement, presented in some detail here (or anywhere else), make much sense to me. None of them rings true in my heart, in my relationship to God or in my Quaker tradition. The execution of Jesus seems more like a logical consequence of disrupting the status quo. It seems like a human response, not unlike our government’s approach to terrorists; it doesn’t seem to reflect a divine intention. The resurrection is a mystery I’m interested in exploring, not how Jesus ended up on the 1st century version of the electric chair.
The mixing of fact and fiction makes the books a puzzle. The temptation is to read them as a roman a clef – and figure out who is who. But McLaren warns against that, and I think he’s smart enough to have made composite characters who don’t intentionally line up with real people – or maybe I just don’t know enough about the evangelical world to find the clues.
I think their greatest value may be to people who still think that they’re the only ones asking these questions and struggling with these ideas. McLaren illustrates nicely the way people who are apparently nodding their heads and following along in mainstream evangelical churches may quietly be questioning it all, and how they may not know how to bring up their questions for fear of looking foolish or less faithful.
I have seen the same thing happen in Quaker meetings, both folks who are afraid to bring up their attachment to Jesus and their secret longing to follow Him more closely and openly, and folks who are questioning the whole existence of God, who know that the image they had of God doesn’t work anymore but can’t imagine any other way to understand what people mean by the Divine. I have personally heard a Friend say in a small group, “I don’t think there’s anybody in my Meeting I can talk to about this,” and someone else say, ‘Just yesterday, so and so said the same thing to me, and I think she’s from your Meeting.”
We have to be brave enough to speak our understanding of the Truth. Sometimes other people will disagree, and discourage us, but we have to keep trying. Dan, in the Trilogy, has his whole life shaken up. He nearly loses his job in a way that might make it impossible for him to find another one in the same field. Neil already went through that sacrificial transition. Other characters feel like their lifelong faith or atheism is being shaken to the core. Many people feel the same way in real life. This is where I think the example of Jesus can help us to be brave enough to take the punishment that we may or may not know is coming. If the possibility of life after death encourages you, then every day is a great opportunity to gain another star in your crown. If simply the witness of faithful living on this Earth encourages you, then Jesus is a fine example. Brian McLaren is another.
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