Sunday, February 11, 2007

Book Review - A New Kind of Christian

Although I've been aware of Brian McLaren for a long time and I'm familiar with many of the ideas associated with the Emergent/Emerging church, I've never actually read any of his books. After discussing A New Kind of Christian with a lady at church one day (her daughter had to read the book at college), I decided maybe it was time to read some of his writings. Thankfully the public library has several selections by McLaren, so I requested a few and started reading. I realize that many other people have already reviewed and discussed the books much better than I will but I felt like writing out some of my thoughts anyway.

I finished A New Kind of Christian yesterday. It's a fairly easy read. Written in fictional form, McLaren presents his ideas regarding postmodernism and the problems with the modern evangelical church. I can definitely see why it's an appealing book to many Christians. The story draws the reader in and presents the issues in a way that the reader can identify with.

I found myself agreeing with the analysis of the modern evangelical church. There is no doubt there are problems that need to be addressed. Where we differ is in the answers.

For example, Christians can be judgemental. He uses the example of the woman caught in adultery. One of his characters, Neo, asks, "Who was the greater sinner, the woman caught in adultery or the Pharisee holding a stone ready to execute her?... How much energy do we modern Christians put into condemning sexual sins compared to avoiding the judgmental, Pharisaical attitude of those with rocks in their hands? Who killed Jesus, adulterers or Pharisees? I'm not trying to minimize adultery - believe me, I know how terrible it is. I'm just saying that our modern preoccupations don't seem very informed by the gospel." (p. 99)

Point taken. Whether it is sexual sin or backbiting and anger, it is sin and Christians need a much better understanding not only of their own sin before God but the magnitude of the grace given by God.

However, McLaren not only fails to define the gospel in terms of the Word of God but goes on to minimize the power of the gospel.

He recognizes the lack of community and caring for non-Christians in our world. He points out the moralism and legalism in so many churches - if you will only pray more, give more, be at church more, then you will be closer to God. But again, he runs away from the answer found in the gospel and instead looks to other means of grace.

One of the more dangerous elements of this book, that I think is explained more in the second & third books of the series (the library doesn't have the second book and I'm just starting the third), is the what McLaren sees as the problem of the exclusivity of Christ. At first glance, especially in this first book, his ideas do not seem to be that far off. However, how he carries them through and the logical trajectory will, I think, if it hasn't already, bring him into conflict with the truth of the gospel and of God's Word.

I do think that his books are valuable to read, if a person is sufficiently grounded in the truths of Scripture. He is a very persuasive writer and one must read carefully to fully grasp what he is actually saying. He says in the introduction to the third book that he heard of a large church where the pastoral staff was forbidden to read his books. If that is true, and not an urban legend, I think that is silly. It's important for adults, especially leaders, to read books like this and grapple with the ideas that are being presented because, like it or not, the postmodern world is the one that we are living in. However, the careful reader should always be aware of the underlying assumptions and always look to God's word for the final answers. The danger comes when younger Christians read books like this without guidance from older Christians and without careful discussion of what the problems are and what the answers are. Not that older Christians have all the answers but usually they have at least encountered some of the issues before and are more prepared to look at the issues from all angles, not just from McLaren's viewpoint.

I'm interested to get farther into the third book of the trilogy, which is mostly dealing with the doctrine of hell. Perhaps I will post a further review after I finish reading it.


Kathleen Hamilton said...

Juanita, I checked out A Generous Orthodoxy from my library, and I can barely stand to read it. My library also has the book you reviewed, but I don't know if I can stomach any more of his writing. I do agree with some (not all) of his assessment of the modern evangelical church (see my review of D.G. Hart's very good book, Deconstructing Evangelicalism, in which he points out some of the same problems). But McLaren's solutions are way off, at least what I've read so far.

Juanita said...

Kathleen, I can understand your feelings. I finished the 3rd book of the trilogy yesterday and started what I think is his new one - The Secret Message of Jesus. I am hoping to read it all and then review it too.