Friday, 23 July 2010

More Ready Than You Realize

This book by Brian McLaren is about "the power of everyday conversations" (as the subtitle puts it). It contains a series of emails from April, a girl he met once at a book launch. Brian helped her put her harp into her van and from there they strike up an email friendship. April is searching for God and isn't sure about Christianity. She has a Christian boyfriend but every time they have a religious conversation it ends in an argument. She also doesn't have a problem with praying and thinks there is a God out there. Throughout the book Brian gives his reflections on some of the comments April makes and also tells other stories about others who he has met who were also seeking God.

On the whole I actually agreed a lot with Brian's approach to evangelism. Brian is rebelling against the fundamentalist formula of the 5 minute gospel presentations that forces a quick decision from the potential "lost" person (Brian also hates the term "lost", and interesting points out that if a letter doesn't make it to its sender, then the letter is "lost" and not the recipient. If Christians have a message to tell and don't, then who is really the "lost" ones?) Brian encourages April to struggle and think for herself on some issues. He does answer her questions about certain bible passages she has, but his approach is really to asks her questions for her to think about more. He sees that now days people want to belong before they will believe, and that Christians should spend more time with non-Christians and not with church. Brian seems to be a guy who is surrounded by non-Christians and he seems to know how people tick. Brian seems to know what the underlying issues are, and I think he must be a really good listener.

Like I said, with his methods above, I had no problem with it. It was with some of the details that I am not so sure on. Brian seems to draw or contrast the modern God against the post-modern God as if they are two different God's, whereas I just want to go back to Jesus in the Gospels and see what it says there. (I know that we all approach the text with our own modern/post-modern mindset, but the closer we get to the text without pulling any philosophical explanations out of nowhere, the better I think we all will be.)  Brian tells two different stories about people who have attended his church for a few months, and they both love it, except that they don't believe in God. I think if that if this was my church then maybe an alarm bell might go off in my head, and I would ask myself what is being said at the front. (It is a good thing when non-Christians find church a good place to hang, but if they aren't being challenged after a few months to think hard about God, then are you attending a church or a social club?)

In one chapter Brian tells a story when someone asks him why Jesus had to die, and Brian's response was that he didn't know and want two weeks to think about it. I thought the reason why Jesus had to die, was a pretty central part of Christianity, and I would have hoped that a minister would have had that one down pat. He then says he reads J.I Packer, John Stott and James Boice and he was still at a loss as to why Jesus had to die (I do find that hard to believe. The Cross of Christ by Stott comes to mind which, by the tittle, you might be able to work out is all about Jesus' death on the Cross). After two weeks without coming to an answer he talks to his brother who says that Jesus also didn't know why he had to die as in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus asked for another way out, which sounded "like Jesus didn't really understand why it had to be that way either. But the point wasn't understanding it; the point was doing what needed to be done." (p86). After giving that response to the guy who first asked the question said, that it doesn't answer his question but "It kind of makes the question not really matter so much" (p87). To not know why Jesus died on the cross, or for it not to have mattered I think loses the whole point of Christianity.

It's not surprising that sin doesn't get much of a look-in in this book. Brian recalls a bible study when someone wanted to become a Christian so he prays with them, not asking for forgiveness of sin (what some would call the "Sinners prayer") but to be part of God's family and confessing their want to love Jesus and others. Christianity is perhaps emphasis as an experience or a life style. Yes the Gospels do say how Jesus lives and we should mimic them, but there is no reason as to why we should mimic them, and thus it reduce Christianity to our actions or just living in community, or living by some standard, creates the whole situation of a religious structure and system that Jesus came to remove people from. Its another fundamentalism or system that Brian was rebelling against. The why for what Christianity behave directs their actions, not the actions them self.

Overall the book encourages us to be "spiritual friends" with people; to not see people as projects or a problem to be solved, but to look after others as people. We are to ask questions, to help them think and to give them space to sort through their issues. We shouldn't be worried about if people have crossed the line of believing or not, we just should be helping people on a journey (which sounds nice, but where is the journey meant to be going? If there is no destination then why is "moving forward" or any form of "progress" a good thing?). The lack of a clear understanding of core Christian doctrines such as original sin, repentance and any theory of atonement would have been nice.


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