The Excellency of Christ in ‘A New Kind of Christianity’

One of the things I appreciate the most about Brian McLaren‘s A New Kind of Christianity is its refreshing Christ-centeredness.

Growing up in a world where ‘Theos’ was revered and Jesus was explained away, I find it refreshing to read how Brian turns the tables to show how Christ is the pinnacle of the Christian revelation of God – which should be obvious, but it’s become obscured in our ‘Constitutional’ reading of the Bible. One of the best ‘side effects’ of seeing Sacred Scripture as a community library is that it allows the native brilliance of Jesus shine and take his proper place at the center of Christian ideas of God, love, redemption, and living in the world.

In fact, I’d venture to say that the ‘new’ in a new kind of Christianity is the proper emphasis placed on the newness of God’s New Covenant, God’s new heaven and earth realities that are being birthed through grace and kindness – Gospel realities that are the air we breathe in God’s new creation ecology.

Hear this come through in Brian’s passion for the centrality of Christ in our understanding of God:

The Quaker scholar Elton Trueblood approached the Bible this way. One of Trueblood’s students told me that he often heard his mentor say something like this: “The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.” In other words, the doctrines of the incarnation and deity of Christ are meant to tell us that we cannot start with a pre-determined, set-in-stone idea of God derived from the rest of the Bible, and then extend that to Jesus. Jesus is not intended merely to fit into those pre-determined categories; he is intended instead to explode them, transform them, alter them forever and bring us to a new evolutionary level in our understanding of God. An old definition of God does not define Jesus: the experience of God in Jesus requires a new brand definition or understanding of God.

Trueblood’s insight, in my opinion, is the best single reason to be identified as a believer in Jesus, and it is an unspeakably precious gift that can be offered to people of all faiths. The character of Jesus, we proclaim, provides humanity with a unique and indispensable guide for tracing the development of maturing images and concepts of God across human history and culture. It is the North Star, if you will, to aid all people, whatever their religious background, in their theological pilgrimage. The images of God that most resemble Jesus – whether they originate in the Bible or elsewhere – are the more mature and complete images, and the ones less similar to the character of Jesus would be the more embryonic and incomplete – even though they may be celebrated for being better than the less complete images they replaced.

This is why we cannot simply say that the highest revelation of God is given through the Bible (especially the Bible read as a constitution, or cut and pasted to fit in the Greco-Roman six-line narrative). 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.

A New Kind of Christianity, pages 114-115

As I’ve noted here and here, I think that many readers will find in ANKoC the seeds of a wiser, more loving approach to Christian living – because it points a wiser, more loving, Christ-like God who is worthy of all worship and service.

If you’re reading along in the book – or waiting to get yours in the mail! – be sure to download the two free bonus chapters on Bible-reading and eschatology. Also stay tuned for the ten-episode Brian McLaren channel we’re launching with TheOOZE next week! And if you want an opportunity for your circle of friends, fellowship group or Sunday School class to discuss ANKoC personally with Brian, we’re hosting a sweepstakes where you can do just that. And finally – feel free to follow the unfolding blogosphere conversation over at ViralBloggers.com.

27 Responses to “The Excellency of Christ in ‘A New Kind of Christianity’”


  1. 1 Kimberly Knight February 12, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Thank you for this great review – I am headed out to pick up the book today.

  2. 2 Ted Seeber February 12, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    Is the Greco-Roman six-line narrative something that is solely taught in schools and never online? The ONLY references I can find to it are emergent ones- and all just references, never explaining (in the supposedly six lines) what the heck it’s supposed to be?

    • 3 peg March 15, 2010 at 2:31 pm

      It’s like the Emergent secret, gnostic handshake. It’s meant to be concealed from the unenlightened. Sorry, Ted. Better luck to you in the next world.

  3. 4 Joe Machuta February 12, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    I too am liking Brian’s Christ focus. Great job Mike! @Ted, I am not sure, but I imagine that the six line Greco-Roman refers to the six heads of the apostle’s creed. I could be incorrect but it seems logical to me.

    • 5 Ted Seeber February 12, 2010 at 6:01 pm

      If so, I fail to see what is so non-Christ-centered about it. Maybe it’s because I come from the Roman Catholic Tradition, where we would be even more radical than Brian’s Quakers- we wouldn’t say that Jesus is like God or that God is like Jesus, but rather that Jesus is God is the Holy Spirit- 100% commutative for whichever order you want to write that in.

      From that standpoint, the entire concept of putting one aspect of the trinity above the other two is theologically ridiculous.

  4. 6 zoecarnate February 12, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    For whatever it’s worth, Ted, I think Brian would affirm that too – as would I. His point, though, is that folks these days tend to conceptualize ‘Theos’ (a kind’ve mashup of the Old Testament God, Platonic ideas, and Empire machismo) and then, in their confession that ‘Jesus is God,’ try to make Jesus fit into that. What Brian’s suggesting is that we let the biblical and experiential revelation of Jesus set the standard for how we see God, and not vice-versa.

    • 7 Ted Seeber February 12, 2010 at 6:15 pm

      That’s scary- but I think I kind of understand from the same standpoint some old Catholics (pre-Vatican II) had of an image of God as a Judge rather than God as a Loving (sometimes tough love, but still loving) Father with an interest in our lives.

      That was usually a mistaken impression more caused by some poor undereducated nun someplace trying to control 50 children in a classroom with a whistle, a clicker, and a ruler; than any actual formal theology.

      Could evangelical circles maybe be coming out of a similar period, just a few decades behind? One in which God is seen as something to be feared more than worshiped?

  5. 8 zoecarnate February 12, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Ted – you’ll just have to read Brian’s book to see what the six-line narrative is!🙂 Only kidding. (And Joe, it’s not the Apostle’s Creed but good guess) As far as I know, Brian coined this particular phrasing (that’s why you’re not seeing it in Google), but I think you’ll recognize what he’s saying (unfortunately I cannot reproduce the graphics for you that are on the page – they’d help you visualize what he’s talking about):

    “This unspoken storyline of the Bible that we were explicitly taught — or that we implicitly caught — could be diagramed with six simple, elegant lines:

    We start on the left with absolute perfection in the Garden of Eden. Then comes something called The Fall into Original Sin, “the Fall” and “Original Sin” (like “absolute perfection”) being terms that are never found in the Bible, but are fundamental to Catholic and Protestant Christian faith as we know it. The bottom of the trough, in which we are now living, is a state we could call the Fallen World, Human History, or Life on Earth. Next comes an ascending line, which we might call Salvation, Redemption, Justification, or Atonement (depending on our tradition), leading us to the top line on the right, known as Heaven or Eternity.

    Of course, for many people, perhaps the vast majority according to some versions of this conventional storyline, the ending is not so happy. Instead, after everything they’ve suffered in this life, beyond this life they face final damnation to hell, defined by most Western Christians as eternal conscious torment, supremely chilling words in spite of their fiery imagery they evoke. Few of us acknowledge that this master-narrative starts with one category of things — good and blessed — and then ends up with two categories of things: good and blessed on the top line and evil and tormented on the bottom. Might we dare to ask if this story can be reduced to a manufacturing process – producing a finished product of blessed souls on the top line, with a damned unfortunate by-product on the bottom line? Could this be the story of sorting and shipping process, the purpose of which is to deliver souls into their appropriate eternal bin? Can we dare to wonder, given an ending that has more evil and suffering than the beginning, if it would have been better for this story never to have begun?

    In recent years, hundreds of writers, pastors, and thinkers — probably thousands – have dared to tweak various elements or lines in this story, I among them. We might question conventional theories of atonement, or the nature and population of hell, or whether concepts like original sin or total depravity need to be modified. In other words, we suggest that this line should be a little longer, that one a little shorter. But seldom do we question whether this shape is morally believable, and whether it can be found in the Bible itself. Did Abraham hold it, or Moses, or Jeremiah, or Jesus, Paul, or James? Is it ever explicitly taught in Scripture? Was it held in the first three centuries of Christian history? Does it help make sense of the Bible – revealing more than it conceals? Does it contribute to a higher vision of God, a deeper engagement with Christ, a more profound experience of the Holy Spirit? Does it motivate us to love God, neighbor, stranger, and enemy more wholeheartedly?

    It dawned on me only gradually that the answer to each of the above questions was no. Up until that point, this narrative shape had been like my glasses, through which I saw everything but of which I was largely unconscious nearly all the time. That no answer appeared like a deep scratch on my glasses, and it annoyed me to no end. Increasing numbers of us share the feeling that our theological lens is scratched. That’s why this quest begins not by tweaking details of the conventional six-lined narrative, but by calling the entire narrative scheme into question. We do not for a second say, “These six lines present the true shape of the Biblical narrative, but we reject it.” Rather we stare at this narrative, scratch our heads, and with a bewildered look, ask, “How in the world, how in God’s name, could anyone ever think this is the narrative of the Bible?”

    • 9 Ted Seeber February 12, 2010 at 6:40 pm

      Hmm, given that, I guess, I grew up not with a six-line narrative, but with a ten-line narrative.

      We start out with Heaven, with God, Trinity, the three in one. Absolute perfection. He creates Eden- also absolute perfection, it’s on the same line as heaven. But then comes the first fall- the fallen angels line, either the guardians having sex with mortal women or the revolt of the Light Bringer, Lucifer, either way that creates two additional lines, the fall and hell. Then comes the second fall, and we have Two more lines- heaven, the fall to earth (original sin), earth (this vale of tears), and hell. From this vale of tears, we either have a further fall (damnation) where we join the dark angels in Hell, or we have the Salvation of Christ (Purgatory) through which we, the Church Suffering, become the Church Triumphant.

      I’d call that Dante’s ten-line narrative, and most of it (in fact, all of it past the idea of Hades, Paradise, and Earth) is post-Christ invention.

      Christ himself spoke of Hades, Paradise and Earth (one of my favorite parables of Christ, the Rich Man and the Beggar Lazarus, not to be confused with the miraculous St. Lazarus who was raised from the dead)- so you can’t eliminate Hell without eliminating Christ. But hell wasn’t created by our Original Sin, or even by the sin of Humanity. It’s far earlier than that in the story- we’re not blamed for the existence of hell. And if we go there- it’s because we’ve CHOSEN to go there of our own free will.

      To understand my point in this: Dogma is Christ’s teaching. It’s fixed. It’s what he preached. We can’t change it. Doctrine is our understanding of dogma- it changes, but we should be careful to change it very SLOWLY, lest we fall into preaching error (the USCCB is coming close to stepping over that line in the last two Presidential elections). Discipline is what we laity do with our understanding of doctrine- and changes all the time.

      I’m hoping that Brian is talking about Discipline- changing how we teach what Christ Taught- more than doctrine- changing our understanding of what Christ Taught. And that’s certainly worthwhile- but we should keep in mind that it is temporal, and temporary; lest we end up like the Rich Man yelling to Lazarus across the chasm “Will you intercede for me with Father Abraham to let me into paradise?”

      Having said that- I’d like to point out that UNLIKE the Greco-Roman six-line narrative; Paradise seems to have been available in Christ’s theology *before* his Passion and Sacrifice. I wonder if anybody’s ever deconstructed THAT? Seems like almost as big of a plot hole as Matthew’s missing generation.

  6. 10 Kimberly Knight February 12, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    Update – braved the loonies on Atlanta roads (it is snowing and two flakes makes us all freak out) and just came home with ANKoC and Keri Smith’s How to be An Explorer of the World. I did not mean to – but I pretty sure they will end up being closely related.

    That wacky Holy Spirit.

    • 11 Ted Seeber February 12, 2010 at 8:28 pm

      Good for you. Last December, when we had snow in Oregon (yes, the rest of the country is getting it, but not Oregon or Washington) I was horrified to see the number of people who apparently had skipped out on Newton’s Laws of Motion in high school- and who ended up in the ditch or worse, just abandoning their stalled vehicles in the middle of the road for the rest of us to pick around……

  7. 12 Ryan February 14, 2010 at 3:54 am

    Mike, this is a really great post and the book is probably something I am going to pick up now.

    I have been considering these things regarding God as portrayed in the Old Testament, and from the excerpt you quoted above, Brian seems to express very well what I, and perhaps many others, have wondered.

    …What if someone came up to you and told you that a certain holy book which demands your obedience contains the following story?

    A prophet of God was walking along the road when a group of kids saw him and started yelling out “baldy!!” because the prophet was bald. The prophet called a curse down upon them in the name of God, and thus a bear came out of the woods and mauled the kids to death.

    Unless we are really still in the age of fearing certain positional domineers who speak “in the name of God” like the prophet did in this story, then this story at best should really make us roll our eyes. If this God is the true God, then he is not worth obeying. If you told this story to an average Christian, they would probably agree and laugh away this “holy” book.

    And yet, this is the exact story found in 2 Kings 2:23-24.

    What is called the centrality of Christ really is, as you have alluded to, the issue of who is God. And it may be that a follower of Christ must not simply consider the points that Brian brings up, but as a butterfly sheds its cocoon, must throwout the absurdities attributed to God in the OT. As one has said, “the Christ’s love compels us.”

    • 13 Ted Seeber February 15, 2010 at 3:15 am

      On Elisha and the kids calling him “old baldy”: I’ve actually always appreciated that story, because unlike most people, in my growing up with undiagnosed autism, I always identified with the Prophet in that story- maybe partially because I took it as a myth not as fundamentalist literal truth, but also because I imagined that a God who would protect His Prophet from bullies, might also protect me.

      Neurotypical society is cruel, and their vaulted empathy (which I have NO evidence of existing at all) seems to be utterly unable to pierce the veil of autism. EVERY adult autistic I know, was forced into such an uncharitable position by bullies at some point in their lives, most without the means or power to end the pain.

  8. 14 thinkingaboutitall February 15, 2010 at 1:45 am

    Hey Mike,
    I just saw this link on the viral bloggers site and totally agree about the Christ centeredness of the book. Really refreshing. I’ve been hearing similar things from NT Wright lately and after going through a new kind of Christianity it really sunk in in a new way.

  9. 15 forrest curo February 16, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Once you take Jesus’ view of God in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ as his way of introducing us to our Father… you can trust God to bring you any new understanding you might need.

    If, for example, being “like God” means to “send sunlight and [necessary, for a farmer] rain on the Just and the Unjust”, then we ought to see, right there, that the conventional ideas of ‘Sin’ and punishment don’t fit, that what people experience as ‘Divine retribution’ and suffering should best be thought of along the lines of ‘consequences’ and ‘feedback.’

    That whole theological edifice of passing The Exam to get into Heaven, vs being Damned to eternal punishment– is merely “out of character” for God. We don’t get rid of karmic mechanisms (We can hurt people, but not without hurting ourselves!) but once we know we can trust God, we have no reason to harm anyone, and every reason to expect grace.

    Some lines from a movie my wife liked: “Honey, Jesus loves you just the way you are. He loves you too much to let you stay that way!” If our collective reality looks more like ‘Divine Wrath’ than ‘Shalom’ at the moment, that’s why!

    • 16 Ted Seeber February 16, 2010 at 6:14 pm

      After September 2008, I’m not sure I can trust karmic mechanisms (OR the punishment of the market) to treat people with justice and mercy- it seems to me that the people doing the hurting were rewarded quite richly for their behavior, while their victims ended up homeless or worse.

      Having said that, I agree the idea of “passing The Exam to get into heaven” is the wrong way to look at it as well.

      Here’s how I look at it instead. Good deeds are like helium in a balloon- they help us to float, to advance to the next plane of spirituality. Bad deeds are like lead- they drag down our spirit. Forgiveness (and more importantly, acceptance of that forgiveness) removes the lead.

      It’s what we cling to that causes us to go to heaven or hell, not what God does, for He has already forgiven you *before* you even think of the sin. And (have to throw this in as a Roman Catholic) purgatory is just the process of learning to let go of the lead (all souls in Purgatory, from JPII’s famous 1999 sermons on the topic or for that matter, CS Lewis’s image of Purgatory as a bus trip available to all souls in hell in _The Great Divorce_, are destined for Heaven, they’re just taking the scenic route).

  10. 17 ben February 17, 2010 at 5:31 am

    These notions do us no credit.
    Sit

  11. 18 zoecarnate February 17, 2010 at 5:36 am

    What do you mean, Mr. Schultz?

  12. 19 wess February 19, 2010 at 6:49 am

    Glad to see McLaren’s reading Trueblood. ET is worth spending time with and learning from regardless of if you’re a Quaker or not.

  13. 20 Mark Eaton March 14, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    Mike,
    what a powerful statement. You said “You grew up with ‘theos’
    was revered and Jesus was explained away.” I grew with a traditional view of Mediation. God was ticked off, mad at the world for there sin. Jesus was holding Him back and acting as a body guard. There is a need for understanding the Excellency of Christ. I realize now that GOD WAS IN CHRIST,reconciling the world until Himself. E.Stanley Jones said “We hope God is Christlike.” I see the Mediation of Christ in a new light. It bother me when people say the Real Jesus is “lost in translation.” I do not agree. However, I know that the Authentic Jesus might be lost in your translation, but He is never lost in the transmission of Love. God sent Jesus into the world and said “Will You Let Me Love You?” We need to explore this topic afresh, and see the Jesus is the Pattern Son for a
    Beautiful Human! See that He Shares His Divine Nature! One author wrote “Jesus fully Divine, Fully Human.” How can we think
    we got this concept down?
    Thank You Mike for the blog!

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  1. 1 Sunday Devotional: Sara Miles – Jesus Says GO! « zoecarnate Trackback on February 14, 2010 at 4:43 pm
  2. 2 Three Things Tuesday « Grace Rules Weblog Trackback on February 16, 2010 at 9:49 pm
  3. 3 Brian McLaren: ‘I enthusiastically affirm the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. I’m a wholehearted Trinitarian.’ « zoecarnate Trackback on February 17, 2010 at 3:57 pm
  4. 4 Sunday Devotional: Sara Miles – Jesus Says GO! | Mike Morrell Trackback on December 18, 2011 at 7:35 pm

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