new, really?

I've been meandering my way through Brian McLaren's latest treatise in his emerging thought - A New Kind of Christianity. For many reasons McLaren creates quite a stir in evangelical circles, receiving both fanfare and harsh critique. Some readers encounter a breath of fresh air compared to what they see as a stale N.A. church culture. Or for some, they find McLaren's critique crosses the border into the land of heresy from which there is no return. These types of responses reveal how McLaren has become a polarizing figure (scapegoat?) in the evangelical Christian community when it comes to processing new or divergent ideas.

To illustrate, I've heard of this loaded question in interviews for pastoral positions: "What's your opinion on Brian McLaren and the Emergent Church?" Depending on the church, how you answer the question could cost you the job. If they're in love with McLaren (I think some churches/people really are!), then you'd better know all the latest Emergent lingo (e.g. conversation, post-almostanything, etc...). But know the question could also be a test of for right orthodoxy (well, their orthodoxy anyway) - a way of protecting the congregation from a new leader with rogue views of the emerging variety.

But back to A New Kind of Christianity. Personally, I agree with many of the theological considerations McLaren is making. I mean, it's pretty easy to see the influences of N.T. Wright throughout McLaren's work - "kingdom of God" is prominent. So if you like Wright (which I do), then McLaren proposal's are mostly worthwhile, although his constant jabs at general N.A. Christianity do get tiresome, even if much is true. But the purpose of this post isn't to critique McLaren's overall project (maybe I'll offer a more thorough critique when I finish the book). I have another thought for now.

Maybe McLaren keeps angering so many people because he sounds too Anabaptist. Yes, that's right. What if McLaren's appreciation for Anabaptist theology - expressed in Generous Orthodoxy - has become more than just a recognition of value? Maybe McLaren is Anabaptist? I say this because his book is full of talk about Christ-likeness in everyday life, the importance of peacemaking, and the church as a discipleship community ("forming people of Christlike love"). Like in the Reformation, these themes oftentimes contrast sharply with much of what the established church and society values. As I'm reading, I've stopped counting how many times I pause and think, "hmm, that's what Anabaptist's have been stating for centuries." Here's a sampling of what I mean:

"What would it mean if we were willing to sacrifice--or at least subordinate--everything else for this one goal of forming Christlike people, people who live in the way of love, the way of peacemaking, the way of the kingdom of God, the way of Jesus, the way of the Spirit?" 170

"We cannot simply say that the highest revelation of God is given through Bible...Rather, we can say that, for Christians, the Bible's highest value is in revealing Jesus, who gives us the highest, deepest, and most mature view of the character of the living God." 115

"Repentance means more than being sorry--it means being different" 77

These quotes remind me of my own denomination's Confession of Faith in an article on salvation: "All who receive Christ are born again, have peace with God, and are called to love one another and live at peace with their neighbour. Those whom God is saving no longer live for themselves, for they have been set free from sin and called to newness of life."

So, perhaps I resonate with McLaren not because his message is new, but because it's so Anabaptist. Maybe he should write another book, "An Anabaptist Kind of Christianity."



Anonymous said...

I think McLaren has a soft spot for Anabaptism but I'm not sure I'd go further than that. He doesn't seem to be nearly as explicit as some of us.

David Warkentin said...

I agree he's not as explicit as self-proclaiming Anabaptists...

But maybe he should be?

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