Have you even had days of doubt and disillusionment with yourself and others when you’ve wondered what it really means to be considered a Christian- a true Christian that is? Have you ever wondered how relevant the creed or articles of faith are in a post-modern world, and why a belief in unbelief seems to be taking root in our society? You maybe have looked around a bit more closely in church and though, “Lord, really is this it, is that what you have for me to do and be? “You are not alone and neither am I and I thank God for thinkers like Brian McLarenwho have the gift of opening the door on a better relationship with God. McLaren wrote; “The kind of people who would come to faith along the path I was trying to clear for them would not end up just like the people waiting for them in church. They would be like a bunch of wild-eyed artists and excitable children and rugby players walking into a room full of buttoned-down accountants and engineers…a great learning experience for all concerned but not the makings of a fun party.”
In his first book The Church on the other sideMcLaren wrote:
“You see, if we have a new world, we will need a new church. We won’t need a new religion per se, but a new framework for our theology. Not a new Spirit, but a new spirituality. Not a new Christ, but a new Cristian. Not a new denomination, but a new kind of church in every denomination…I began to doubt that any of us Christians are actually Christians.I relate this experience simply to illustrate the importance of our challenge:to reopen the question of what makes a good Christian…if need be, would we be willing to confess that we are hardly Christians at all and that we need to become as little children and start again?”
The faltering steps of a new child are always the most exciting yet full of risk and apprehension yet no fear. If you’re up for it so am I and let’s hold each other’s hand along the way.
The first volume of Brian McLaren’s trilogy A New Kind of Christian, recounts a lively and intimate conversation and spiritual journey between fictional characters- Pastor Dan Poole and his daughter’s science teacher Neo. They reflect together about faith and life as Dan has a crisis of leadership, faith and doubt. It is essential a tale of hope and spiritual renewal for those who thought they may have given up on God, faith or the church. Throughout the book the character of Neo challenges Dan and others in their thinking and in one part Neo asks his students about the practical advice they would give Martin Luther if they could go back in time and meet this sincere young medieval monk who wants his life to count for God. The class replied:
“Don’t put your confidence in the institution of the church; put your confidence in God. be open to new ideas and new interpretations of the faith. Don’t be too quick to criticize. Expect things to be messy. Don’t resist change, Go with it..Keep going back to the Bible, but not with the standard interpretations blinding you to new interpretations. try to sort out tradition from the real essentials of the gospel. Get with it, get out of the way, or get counselling!”
When challenged about the dangers of change and the prospect of heresy, the character of Neo responds with quiet determination; “I believe in the Holy Spirit. i believe Jesus meant it when he said the spirit of God would be with us, guiding us to the very end. So I believe that he will guide us through these winds and currents of change, no matter what storms come. In fact, I believe that he is the wind in our sails, leading us into the change, because that’s his way. he always moves ahead.He’s not about taking us back to the past..He has a purpose he is working toward, and I want to keep up with him. I suppose that’s my greatest fear, not that I’ll go too fast or too far but that I’ll lag behind.”
Visionary and inspiring stuff . It’s no wonder Neo is fictional when did you last get words like that from a church leader?
I have spent the past few days with a great bunch of people the church calls pioneers- these are men and women who take risks for the gospel in challenging situations. They spend their time both paid and unpaid in planting churches or establishing fledgling Christian community where the church fears to tread. They get their hands dirty with real people in new or difficult situations, and they are called pioneers because there is no route map or spiritual sat nav to guide them. They may well be inspired by the creed or Christian liturgy but they may not strictly follow it in traditional church terms – instead the focus is on helping people to discover something of the love and grace of Christ where they are, usually outside church walls. This is church that does what is says on the tin- it loves, it shares, it helps and it makes connections. Above all, these fresh expressions of church are relevant.
It has been an exciting, challenging, inspiring and humbling experience as these pioneers shared their stories, laughed together, dreamed dreams together, cried together, prayed together, worshipped together and supported each other. The event was a great success and credit goes to Dave Male and the team for having to courage to step out and organise this inaugural event even when, in his own words, it seemed too difficult and he felt like “bottling it.” In reflecting on the event, these words from Brian D McLaren from his excellent book A New Kind of Christian came to me:
“Now the real issue isn’t an emotional crisis or the stereotypical experience of being saved or born again or of crossing a line and then stopping there. The issue isn’t signing on to a new set of beliefs alone. The issue is following Jesus, joining him in his adventure and mission of saving the world and expressing God’s love. If a person isn’t moving ahead on that journey, then no matter how many aisles he walks down and cards he fills out or sinners prayers he says, whether or not he is going to heaven…there is still no way we can say in any meaningful sense that he is experiencing salvation.”
I love Brian McLaren. I love the way he takes complex issues and makes them understandable: I love the way he gets to the heart of some of the problems we have as a church and brings a new wisdom to cutting through all the nonsense and highlighting just what needs to be done. prophet, poet, sage, teacher…he just does it for me when looking at our faith and what we need to do to hang together in God’s grace as the united family of God. Most of all I love the way he helps us discover more about Jesus- the author and finisher of our faith. One word, one church, one Lord. Take this little gem from his book ‘A Generous Orthodoxy”.
“We believe in one church…the creed says, and that’s no easy-to-swallow statement because we’re surrounded by denominations, divisions, arguments, grand polemics, and Petty squabbles. That’s where the “we believe” part comes in: you can only know the unity of the church by believing it, not by seeing it. When you believe it, you can see through the surface dirt and cracks to the beauty and unity shining beneath. Generous Orthodoxy presumes that the divisions, though tragic, are superficial compared to Christianity’s deep, though often unappreciated, unity. perhaps the more we believe in and perceive that unity, the easier it will be to grow beyond disunity.”
More from Brian at http://www.brianmclaren.net/
Many Christians were brought up to see the Bible as a holy infallible instruction book: many Sunday School teachers added to this by describing it as Best Instructions Before Leaving Earth! Yet, many of us have struggled or wrestled with passages- or even whole books that have not made a lot of sense. We’ve probably all quoted the Bible to justify something we have done,or to rebuke rather than help, or may even have had the Bible quoted at us for similar reasons. I have just finished Brian McLaren’s book ” A generous Orthodoxy” and its brilliant chapter- Why I am Biblical. Brian says:
“I grew up being taught the Bible was an answer book, supplying exactly the kind of information…..people want from a phone book, encyclopedia, or legal constitution. Back in the 1960’s, we “knew “the Bible taught that the world would end within 25 years….oops. We also “knew” from the Bible that it would end through a conflict between the US/Israel representing God vs the Soviet Union/China representing the devil.Oops again. We wanted a simple, clear, efficient, and convenient plan for getting to heaven after death. Between now and then, we wanted a clear assurance that God didn’t like the people we didn’t like for the same reasons we didn’t like them. Finally, we wanted a rule book that made it objectively clear, with no subjective ambiguity, what behaviours were right and wrong for all time, in all places, and among all cultures, especially if these rules confirmed our views and not just those of people we considered “liberal”.”
McLaren goes on to state that he believes that scripture is God inspired and God breathed, but notes that when Scipture talks about itself it doesn’t use the language we often use in our explanations of its value (authority, inerrancy, infallibility, absolute and literal) He encourages us to focus on the purpose of scripture as being to equip us for every good work in our needy world(2 Tim3:17), and suggests that biblical Christians have thrived when we use the Bible in this way and we have languished and wandered when we have used it as a weapon to threaten and intimidate others. In closing the chapter McLaren says; “To be truly biblical does not mean being preoccupied with some golden age in the ancient world and God’s word to people back then. It means learning from the past to let God’s story, God’s will, and God’s dream continue to come true in us and our children.”
This is our Bible, This is God’s story, This is our song….This is the narrative which inspires us.
I love how Brian McLaren explains what it means to be a Christian. See if you think this makes as much sense as I do: