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*****= An all-time favorite
****A New Kind of Christian
A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey
by Brian D. McLaren
Reviewed June 20, 2005.
Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2001. 173 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2005 (#4, Christian Nonfiction)
Special thanks to my friend Kathe for bringing this book for me to read when she came to visit.
I felt a certain sense of recognition when I read this book. The ideas presented seemed almost like ones I had had myself, but hadn’t articulated. Which is to say they made sense to me.
The author presents the book as the story of a fictional pastor (representing himself) having a series of conversations with a wise man he encountered and became friends with. I didn’t particularly like the fictional format, as it seemed artificial, but it did help present the ideas in a simpler and less dogmatic way, as one seeker to another.
Basically, the book talks about how our current practice of Christianity is molded by our culture. Our culture is changing with the 21st Century, and it’s time for the parts of Christianity that are cultural, and not necessarily reflecting Christ, to change, too.
There is much wisdom in this book, presented in a way for the reader to mull over and think about. Many of the thoughts presented are powerful, and they can shake up those born and brought up in the church—who may have gotten too comfortable.
I’ll quote some passages that I liked:
“What if the issue isn’t a book that we can misinterpret with amazing creativity but rather the will of God, the intent of God, the desire of God, the wisdom of God—maybe we could say the kingdom of God?”
“The question isn’t so much whether we’re right but whether we’re good. And it strikes me that goodness, not rightness, is what Jesus said the real issue was—you know, good trees produce good fruit, that sort of thing. If we Christians would take all the energy we put into proving we’re right and others are wrong and invested that energy in pursuing and doing good, somehow I think that more people would believe we are right.”
“Too often, when we quote the verse about him being the way, it sounds like we’re saying he’s in the way—as if people are trying to come to God and Jesus is blocking the path, saying, ‘Oh no, you don’t! You have to get by me first.’ I really don’t think that’s what he meant when he said he was the way.”
“True, Jesus was demanding. He called people to a path of radical, wholehearted discipleship. But Jesus didn’t get crucified for being exclusive; he was hated and crucified for the reverse—for opening the windows of grace and the doors of heaven to the tax collectors and prostitutes, the half-breeds and ultimately even Gentiles.”
“Whenever I get to know individual non-Christians—I mean really get to know them—I am completely convinced that I find God already there and at work in their lives. It doesn’t matter if they’re way-out New Agers or even atheists. So it’s clear to me that God doesn’t limit himself to working in Christians’ lives. We try to serve God, but we don’t own him.”
Another idea I liked was that the individualism of our culture has leaked into our preaching of salvation as a way to save you, an individual, from hell. (Too bad about the other guys.) “However, if it were put in the service context, so that we are chosen by God not for privilege but for service, the reverse would be true: ‘I love my neighbors, and if receiving God’s salvation will help me help them, then I want it!’” It seems to me to be a less selfish way of looking at salvation.
There are many more ideas here that will give you food for thought for years to come. I recommend this book to anyone willing to shake up the way they think about Christianity.
Reviews of other books by Brian D. McLaren:
A Generous Orthodoxy
Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?
Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund. All