If you’re feeling discouraged about the crumbling size, scope and impact of your church in the world: There’s hope! That’s the simplest way to describe Brian McLaren’s new book, “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith.” (This link takes you to Amazon to purchase a copy in time for Lent.)
But wait a moment! Many of our readers aren’t Christian. You’ve got congregations, groups and circles within your own spiritual tradition—but you don’t go to “church.” So, is this time to stop reading? Is this just for “Christians”—or is McLaren saying anything of value to the “rest of us” in America?
The short answer: Absolutely.
McLaren has surveyed the bloodied and bomb-cratered landscape of American religious life. Then, in this book, he sketches bridges across 10 chasms that are painful barriers to healing and growth of strong communities. If you’re Jewish, Muslim or a member of other religious movements—consider what this fellow is saying. Many of the religious principles he’s describing here can be widely adapted.
Of course, the vast majority of Americans tell pollsters they are Christian—and Brian is a Christian pastor, scholar and teacher. So, the book is framed honestly from his own life experience to the millions of churchgoers for whom he feels great compassion.
TODAY, we want to introduce you to the questions Brian is raising. Here are a few brief excerpts from the opening section of his book. This will give you a flavor for his approach to these huge problems affecting thousands of congregations. Then, on Wednesday, Brian will be here himself to explain why all of this matters so much.
FROM “A New Kind of Christianity” …
So what are the questions that open the way for a new kind of Christianity? There are many, but in thousands of personal conversations and in hundreds of Q & R (Question and Response) sessions with Christian leaders across denominations and around the world, I’ve noticed ten in particular that keep coming up. These ten, I believe, have a special power to stimulate the conversations we need to have. And these conversations, in turn, can become the context for new friendships among unlikely people. And taken together, those questions, conversations, and friendships have the potential simultaneously to weaken old, rigid paradigms and to help us imagine new and better possibilities. I sense the wind of the Spirit of God in these questions, and in them I feel a powerful summons to faith, hope, and love.
1.) The narrative question: What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
2.) The authority question: How should the Bible be understood?
3.) The God question: Is God violent?
4.) The Jesus question: Who is Jesus and why is he important?
5.) The gospel question: What is the gospel?
6.) The church question: What do we do about the church?
7.) The sex question: Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
8.) The future question: Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
9.) The pluralism question: How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
10.) The what-do-we-do-now question: How can we translate our quest into action?
These ten questions are, to recall Dylan’s epic line, blowing in the wind around us. Even if we’ve never heard them articulated, they have been hovering just outside our conscious awareness. They trouble our conventional paradigms of faith just as the ten plagues of frogs, gnats, flies, and hail plagued the Egyptians in the Exodus story. When people tell us to be quiet and accept the conventional answers we’ve been given in the past, many of us groan like the ancient Hebrews when they were forced to produce bricks without straw. We cry out to God, “Please set us free!” We cry out to preachers and theologians, “Let us go! Let us find some space to think, to worship God outside the bars and walls and fences in which we are constrained and imprisoned. We’ll head out into the wilderness—risk hunger, thirst, exposure, death—but we can’t sustain this constrained way of thinking, believing, and living much longer. We need to ask the questions that are simmering in our souls.”
So, we set out on our quest, our exodus, driven out of familiar territory and into unmapped terra nova by ten questions stirring in our hearts.
Want more on Brian McLaren?
OTHER BRIAN McLAREN BOOKS and INTERVIEWS are described in our Brian McLaren Small Group Resources page..
(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering spirituality, religion, interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)