Title: Brian McLaren’s, A New Kind Of Christianity, Ten Questions That Are Transforming The Faith.
Overview: As Emergence Christianity progresses, it becomes critical for voices to begin offering not just critique but alternative perspectives that make sense. Brian offers ten questions that begin to frame an alternative perspective to traditional evangelical orthodoxy.
2. How should the Bible be understood?
What I Hear Brian Saying: In this second question Brian tackles how we approach Scripture as authority. He addresses the historical nature of approaching the Bible as a legal document, which creates a kind of fundamentalism that people end up defending at the expense of the very people it attempts to transform. He suggests shifting our understanding of the Bible from legal constitution to community library.
My Response: From my perspective, this section will be seen as perhaps the most Emergent of chapters. Brian is clearly suggesting that we move out of a legal understanding of Scripture and one that is more wholistic in nature. He is able to do this because of the way he approaches the problem in Question 1. By removing the historical understanding of the fundamental problem and shaping the narrative as both upward and downward progress, there is essentially no need for what most fundamentalists seek, which is justification.
And herein lies the tension with this chapter. If one still holds onto the idea that there is an ontological problem created in the Garden, one can’t abandon the need for a legal document because the problem of justification still exists. One can easily begin to ask Brian what is the need for the cross, which I felt myself asking at times. I think this is what many of the critics are harping on. Brian has essentially created a different camp that doesn’t seem to need a legal document. If you, the reader, identify with the previous category, and are seeking out the nature of justification, it creates a strange polarization that can be biting.
Brian calls out the oppressive nature of fundamentalism (in any form) that is created when we shape the narrative as legal document and does so without prejudice. Brian pulls no punches in this section and it can feel harsh. Some of this is justified. He highlights the way some (not all) see Scripture as something to create a context for justifying oppression. Although the evidence is clear in history, especially with slavery and women, by calling it out, one can easily assume Brian is suggesting anyone who sees the Bible as authority will use it this way. This is to me the strongest point of the section. His critique of the outcome of seeing it as a legal document is extremely valid. Although Brian has essentially crafted a stereotype, one which clearly exists, Brian helps creates the polarization with the way he’s set up camp.
2. Is God Violent?
What I Hear Brian Saying: In this section Brian wrestles with the nature of God’s character in the narrative, especially the issue of violence. He calls out the brutal nature of the Flood and asks, “Is God violent”. He suggests that the writers of the narrative are approaching it with a limited understanding of who God is, something like a first grader approaches math. Over time the writers begin to see God differently and with more maturity, something like a high school student approaches math. What Brian seems to be saying is that what we read in the story is a developed approach to God’s character, as opposed to a true view of it. So when we read about who God is, we’re seeing it through the lens of the writer, not from a divine revelation of what is actually true.
My Response: Unfortunately, I didn’t resonate with this chapter the way I had hoped. I didn’t share his tension with violence as much as he did. I think this comes from the fact that I have wrestled with this issue in very deep ways and come to an entirely different conclusion about the problem and the reason for God’s responses in Scripture. [Note: I deal with this fairly deeply in my new book. ;-P] I think what we see throughout the entire story is a whole picture of God. So the problem is once again not God, but how WE see God.
I did agree with Brian that Jesus is the best revelation of God we have. But if we begin with Jesus and look backwards into the story, I don’t see the two differing. And the reason is that I frame the problem differently. This is the strange nature of the way has crafted this book. Brian leaves very little room for disagreement because of the way he’s crafted HIS understanding of the problem. If you don’t agree with it, you will find yourself disagree with many of the assumptions that follow.
One idea that hit me as I finished this chapter is Israel’s need for a violent God. In a culture shaped by violent gods, would the Jewish people have even listened to a God that didn’t display power. The plagues were displays of power over other gods. God’s initial wrath is a response to the people’s stubbornness and immaturity. Would they have followed a God that initially called for meekness and love, at that time. I kind of doubt it. In other words, Brian may be getting it right in a different way than I think he might be saying. The people’s idea of God changes over time in response to how they experience God, but God fundamentally doesn’t change.