Posts Tagged 'fundamentalism'

Brian McLaren: ‘I enthusiastically affirm the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. I’m a wholehearted Trinitarian.’

I mentioned recently that Brian has taken all kinds of heat from certain corners of the blogosphere for putting fingers to keypad on A New Kind of Christianity. This trend, sadly, has continued, with Calvinist blogger Tim Challies ranting “It’s as if McLaren is screaming “I hate God!” at the top of his lungs” and then going into scary 1984 allusions, Dr Mike Wittmer finally comes clean in opining the Brian isn’t even a Christian (something sounding more and more like a compliment every day on the ‘Christian’ blogosphere), and Some Guy (I don’t mean to be rude, but in interacting with this fellow for about a month, I still have no idea who he is behind the pseudonym) feels that Lucifer is being cheated by Brian being called ‘a son of Lucifer.’

Ah, Christians. Can you feel the love? Beyond the acerbic words, the latest route of attack on A New Kind of Christianity seems to be: Who does Brian say that Jesus is?

Is his careful language regarding the Christ-like God who is a nonviolent Liberating King masking an evil liberal agenda? Is having certain friends in scholarly circles who don’t believe in Jesus’ literal resurrection tantamount to Brian denying the same? Can Brian, with a straight face, affirm historic consensus Christian understandings of Jesus’ ontological identity? Well apparently, yes he can. Indeed he’s taken the time to respond to critiques – from everything to ‘Brian’s shamelessly pimping himself and shutting down disagreement with his fundamentalism quiz’ to ‘Brian denies Jesus’ divinity’ – with a ton of grace and class. You should read these three posts in their entirety:

A New Kind of Christianity: response to Morrell and McKnight

A new Kind of Christianity: cont’d

A New Kind of Christianity: cont’d 2

Some money quotes:

My paraphrase of Seth Godin didn’t capture the real point he was trying to make very well at all, and Seth’s point itself could probably have been nuanced and adapted with good effect rather than passing it on as-is.

When I passed on the video clip, I was thinking of issues like these:
– When questions arose in Copernicus’s and Galileo’s time about the structure of the universe …
– When Foulke, Leidy, Owen, and others raised questions in the 19th century about fossils, dinosaurs, and the age of the earth …
– When Lamarcke, Wallace, and Darwin raised questions on the evolution of living organisms …

Most of us, myself included, would have reacted as many of our ancestors did: to reject and mock those who dared question what “everyone” already “knew” to be the case. Thank God for those whose curiosity was strong enough to ask, “What if?”

Certainly, as Scot says, almost anyone’s first response would be to ask how these ideas would sit with their faith community. Scientists would do the same thing as people of faith, I think: comparing what is proposed with what is already believed to be true among their peers. So probably the issue isn’t what one’s first thought is, as I (and Seth) suggested, but instead whether one stops there and refuses to give a new idea a second thought…. [Even] so – thanks to all who critiqued my little quiz. You were right, I was wrong, and I appreciate your good insights.

When Bill Kinnon quite pointedly asks, “Who do you say Jesus is, Brian?” Brian responds:

Who do I say Jesus is? In answering that question, I would go exactly to the passages you did: Peter’s confession of Jesus at Caesarea Philippi (I wrote about this at some length in EMC), Paul’s beautiful hymns in Colossians and Philippians, and John 14:9. So yes, I enthusiastically affirm the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. Yes, I’m a wholehearted Trinitarian.

…and, he agrees with his friend Tom over his friend Marcus on Jesus’ resurrection.

Finally, in speaking of an email he received from an appreciative college student, Brian says

I should add that when this writer is talking about “cheap shots in the blogosphere,” he shouldn’t be interpreted to be saying that there’s anything wrong with vigorous disagreement or critique. Vigorous but respectful disagreement has more in common with vigorous and respectful agreement than it does with cheap shots, I think. But having said that, I understand that it’s impossible to do anything about the cheap shots, so it’s probably not even worthwhile to complain about them. Better to just move forward and focus humbly and prayerfully on constructive disagreement and agreement, in pursuit of God’s truth and goodness.

I agree; the problem is, I haven’t seen much ‘vigorous disagreement’ unaccompanied by cheap shots (thankfully, there has been some commentary done in a very constructive and reconciling tone – it’s like a breath of fresh air). I really want to see some principled push-backs, as I think – this might come as a shock for anyone who might be reading me as a McLaren sycophant – ANKoC deserves a thorough-going critical discussion, and perhaps (gasp!) deconstruction. F’r instance:

Jack Caputo says ‘We deconstruct what we love.’ Brian’s taken the time to deconstruct conventional (and we’ve gotta be honest, patently harmful) constructions of systematic theology, ‘the fall,’ redemption, Jesus’ raison d’être, sexual discourse, eschatology, ecclesiology and more because he loves God, Jesus, and the Church – as well as the stranger, the outsider, and our fragile, in-peril political and ecological systems. So if we love Brian, and if we love conversations, let’s take him at his word when he says

The responses I offer are not intended as a smash in tennis, delivered forcefully with a lot of topspin, in an effort to win the game and create a loser. Rather, they are offered as a gentle serve or lob; their primary goal is to start the interplay, to get things rolling, to invite your reply. Remember, our goal is not debate and division yielding hate or a new state, but rather questioning that leads to conversation and friendship on the new quest.

If we agree with Brian, fine. Let’s agree with him where we can. But if we disagree with Brian, let’s do that too – with vigor, but thoroughly seasoned with grace. Because – as we all agree – there’s a lot at stake with how we live lives of faith, hope, and love in the 21st century.

With this in mind, this week marks the start of the Brian McLaren Channel on TheOOZE.tv, wherein Brian and Spencer Burke discuss each of the ten questions raised in the book. I hope that if you feel passionately about these questions (in whatever direction), you’ll take advantage of the sweepstakes we’re running right now – you can win a live, Skyped-in group discussion with Brian.

(Discussion questions here.)

Ah – and a couple of audio interactions with Brian & ANKoC:

State of Belief

Jay Bakker

On the McLaren Nay-sayers

Update: Read Brian’s own responses to these criticisms, as well as his affirmations of creedal orthodoxy & Trinitarian conviction.

It’s a new year; A New Kind of Christianity is out. I highly recommend it; it’s a fantastically thought-provoking book. Not everyone would agree, though – which is perfectly fine. Iron sharpening iron and all that. But it’s not just content-disagreement; it’s becoming increasingly fashionable to bash Brian McLaren these days. This has been the case for years actually in certain quarters, but in the last few months it’s become common for folks who might’be happily displayed a ‘Friend of Emergent’ badge on their blog a couple of years ago – folks for whom Emergent has become either too ‘establishment’ or (more common) too ‘liberal.’ I deliberately haven’t posted at all on the latest spate of ‘breaking up with emergent’ posts here because, frankly, they depress the hell out of me. But you can find a roundup of the points and counter-points here on my Delicious bookmarks. At the end of the day, I think some valid critiques have been raised, for sure, but the overall tenor of dismissal is rather debilitating, to be honest. I can’t summarize it any better than Brother Maynard has here:

The other notable point is a set of changes in what the emerging church is, how it’s defined, who’s a part of it, who still uses the term, and a plethora of other notes. Being the end of a decade, people are also tending to look farther back and farther ahead as well. On this topic, I’m saddened that within the emerging church, people who shared a pulpit at the beginning of the decade won’t share more than the time of day at the end of the decade. Though some of them will spend some time in criticism. You know who you are.

Thankfully I’ve never been through a divorce – as a child or a husband. But my parents did fight alot during one particularly painful season, and this feels identical to me. This isn’t like those big, national ‘pajamas media’ brawls writ large, some Perez Hilton vs. Matt Drudge kind’ve affair. This is like family fighting family, civil war type stuff. It saddens me, it sickens me, it raises my blood pressure and makes me go out and ROM.

So: Bringing this back to Brian. I suppose it’s inevitable that, when you’re deemed the ‘Papa’ of something as amorphous and volatile as the emergent movement, eventually your spiritual children are going to have daddy issues and take out their frustrations on dear ‘ol dad. On the other hand, some of the loudest friends-turned-critics seem to be older men of his own generation, so maybe ‘sibling rivalry’ would be closer to the truth. Nonetheless, I sense a growing sense of more-orthodox-than-thou former emergers who are reacting to what they’re deeming hyper-modernity and/or heresy and/or cheap marketing ploys.

Let’s go with this last one – Scot McKnight says that Brian’s two-question ‘Are You A Fundamentalist?’ quiz shuts down the conversation before it begins; Bill Kinnon says this quiz is fundamentalist of Brian himself, and – if jacket copy can believed – means that Brian’s setting himself up to be a deity.

Excuse me? Are we talking about the same man here? Let’s see if we can find another way to narrate this – one more in line with Philippians 4:8 and 1 Corinthians 13 – you know, believing all things, hoping all things, focusing on what’s pure, righteous, of good report, et cetera.

Brian, for all his lack of formal theological education, is a deep thinker and natural teacher. He reads and travels widely, combining the insights of theology, spirituality, sociology, anthropology, futures work, and the like – synthesizing it in a way that some still find too wordy, but is nonetheless light-years easier to read than his primary source material. Beyond being a bright guy, he’s an empathetic soul – he listens deeply to folks in Africa and Latin America and the Middle East who don’t have a voice, as well as marginalized people within our own borders (LGBT folks, Muslims, etc…). He often speaks for them to religious and political power. The religious power structures in particular don’t like it because while the name of Jesus is upon his lips, they’ve convinced he’s getting Jesus’ Gospel wrong. And so the mud-slinging begins.

I am not saying, as some have recently suggested, that anyone who disagrees with Brian about the aforementioned areas of theology, spirituality, politics, etc., is automatically a mud-slinger; what I am saying is a sizable number of critics are indeed engaging in mud-slinging behavior. Brian has for years endured the worst kinds of insults – to his face and in print, even directed toward his own family, because he dare question the status quo. And being an empathetic man, he takes critiques seriously, even as he’s consistently death with such withering slander with Christ-like character (as Frank Viola notes). I am not linking the recent blog-critiques with the following extreme examples, but imagine for a moment that someone – indeed many someones – are calling you these things:

A true son of Lucifer

A Satanic author

A f*cking idiot

…and I’m deliberately leaving some of the worst ones out.

Now, imagine you’ve been hearing people say stuff like that to you for years, and you have a new book coming out where you’ll be speaking plainer than ever, shooting straight from the hip, real John 16:25 type stuff. And so you want to give your potential readers a fair warning: If you don’t approach theology and spirituality with a certain playfulness, a certain curiosity, a certain winsomeness – then my newest book might not be for you!

I think that’s fair enough. It need not be read as trying to shut down conversation, bur rather that the conversation itself is wising up, maturing. Perhaps some of us emergers, in our late 1990s youth, said “We can change the world through conversation! Come one, come all!” And that worked for us, for a few years. But starting around early 2005 or so, folks who weren’t conversing with curiosity, open-endedness, et al, began strong-arming themselves in and crying “Fire!” And emergentno.com and other sites were born, making decrying such conversations a full-time gig. From my vantage point, Brian is now doing what many wish Obama would do: Grow a pair and say “You know, my message isn’t for everybody. I’ve been very diplomatic for years, but that hasn’t gotten me very far with those who continue to loathe me and my message. So now I’m going to speak plainly to those who like these kinds of conversations, which can still be all kinds of people. Except for those who, by general disposition, are inclined to (yes) ask “Is it acceptable to my religious/ideological community or belief system?” before they ask “Is it possibly true, valuable, and worth exploring?”

Folks who fit into the first category should have their wishes to remain fundamentalists respected. And we need to realize there are siblings in Christ who proudly self-identify as fundamentalists. God bless them and their understandings of Christ’s work in the world – I mean this sincerely.

Brians’ quiz – which I think he meant tongue-in-cheek, by the way – is only a fair warning, doubly fair when including the context of Seth Godin’s short film on fundamentalism (which Scot sadly omitted from his initial posting on the quiz – intentionally or not). And if I understand how this all unfolded correctly, Brian’s idea for the quiz was suggested by Mike Todd’s posting on Seth’s fundamentalism clip, where Mike poses the million-dollar question:

When it comes to matters of faith, do we embrace questions in order to grow and learn, or do we first screen them through our rigid, existing lens in order to eliminate the ones that don’t fit our concrete, bounded structure?

This question is not meant to piss on orthodoxy(ies), or the wisdom of our spiritual forbears. But it’s about remaining open to the Light and leading of the Holy Spirit’s forward-pull into our future, which many of us see as the fullness of New Covenant living in God’s ecology. We can’t pass through this gate of insight without our curiosity and winsomeness intact and functioning healthily.

I understand the critique that Brian is generous to all orthodoxies but the one he comes from – evangelicalism and fundamentalist Christianity. He’s naturally the most trepidations of what he himself has lived through, and he’s naturally the most gracious and hopeful toward those forms of Christian faith that he’s discovered in his later years as a friendly outsider. Thus, Brian’s Christology, soteriology, hermeneutics, modes of discipleship, etc., might seem foreign to (or even hostile to) evangelicalism (or, some might imagine, a complete dismemberment of Christianity itself) – but in reality there are few original components to Brian’s new vision of Christian faith – which is why Brian himself is highly ambivalent to calling this ‘new’ at all.

He’s drawing from the deep and ancient wisdom of East Orthodox churches, Quakers and Anabaptists, mainline and liberation theologies, Catholic spirituality and more. He’s not drinking from these wells indiscriminately; what is new and original is his fresh synthesis of what he (and many of us) see as the best and most fruit-bearing dimensions of each, as we pray, worship, read Scripture and act together as learning communities. This doesn’t mean that everyone who reads ‘the story’ differently is a reverse-heretic in some new emergent papacy, but it does mean that increasing faith-diversification is undeniably the future. Will new ‘c’atholic churches be able to contain the diversity that’s already present in the Body of Christ, which will only continue to flourish as we grow toward the 22nd century? I hope so – we need all hands on deck to answer the call of the ‘Great Work’ of our time – to be Trees of Life for the healing of hatred, violence, and shattered lives and eco-systems. I know that our ‘Gospel’ is important and worth debating over – but please, let’s all sides do this in a respectful manner, not ad hominem, and expect the best of each other’s sincerity, lives, and theologies.

I hope that Brian never becomes impervious to his critics. I hope that he’s able to strain through the metric tons of crapola being dumped his way right now to pick out an occasional pearl, like  Yeah, I suppose that fundamentalism quiz could have been interpreted as polarizing, or I need to have more patience with brothers and sisters who still find much life in the institutions and beliefs that I, for reasons of my own, have moved beyond. I pray that the some of the hurtful words being directed toward a guy who’s already had a ton of hurtful words thrown his way don’t forever isolate him from hearing genuine loving disagreement.

But to my mind, while Brian is not above critique in his theology or actions, at the end of the day I see a man sincerely following Jesus – like Jesus, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. And like Jesus, having Hosannas shouted his way on Sunday, and being crucified on Friday. Jesus ‘descended into hell,’ according to the ancient creed. Like the much-more-recent Facebook group states, I’d rather be in hell with Brian than strumming harps with the bulk of his staunchest nay-sayers.

May all of us – missional and emergent, evangelical and mainline, Catholic and Pentecostal, gay and straight, deconstructionist and Radically Orthodox – fling ourselves upon the Throne of Grace and mercies of the Father, Son, and Spirit, one God, who alone saves and restores.

Amen?

*****

And in the midst of this liminal opportunity for growth in grace and mutual forbearance in this matters where so many obviously disagree, I look forward to reading and reviewing A New Kind of Christianity with the whole community of faith. Beyond the posts you’ll find amply linked to above, here are a few that I’ve found helpful:

Going to Hell with McLaren…or at least to renew an institution. Which is worse? – Dave Wainscott

A New Kind of Christianity Intro by Matt Nightingale

Book Review: A New Kind of Christianity by Bill Nieporte

A New Kind of Christianity by Pam Hoegweide

A New Kind of Blogging My Notes on A New Kind of Christianity by Dan Rustad

Questions…

Brian McLaren on the Overarching Storyline of the Bible

Porpoise Diving Life interview by Bill Dahl

Explore the Spirit interview with Brian

and finally: You will find a variety of reviews, of all persuasions, on the ViralBloggers.com post for A New Kind of Christianity.

Loving Neighbors – and even ‘enemies’ – in the Wake of Ft. Hood

Crescent and CrossUnless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve heard that last week an army psychologist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, opened fire at Fort Hood and killed 13 people. You’ve probably also heard the inevitable discussion that follows senseless violent tragedy, focusing on the nearly-unanswerable question “Why?” From a ‘systems thinking’ point of view, there are many legitimate facets to put on the table, including mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder, the general morale and collective mental state of troops involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and – yes – the influence of radicalized, fundamentalist Islam.

All well and necessary. But what happens when fundamentalist Christians – and their more respectable evangelical neighbors – ignore 3 of the 4 above factors and generalize the last one, painting all Muslims as a potential fifth column ‘sleeper cell’ in our midst? It isn’t pretty. I’ve been avoiding the typical watering holes for such ‘reasoning’ – Fox News, CBN, WorldNetDaily. I know better. But one place I’ve been unable to avoid seeing it is on my own Facebook network. In some cases dear friends making statements like “If three friends from my local [Christian] congregation were involved in shootings, I don’t know if you could claim that my religion is peaceful. Hmm.” What follows is some of my tentative, in-process response, to my friends and family members who are scared, and want to know how followers of Jesus should respond in the wake of this tragedy.

Where to begin? First off, I do agree that Major Hasan had some shady connections. Not only was he not investigated for those connections, but he was actually appointed by the Bush administration to be high up in Homeland Security if this source is to be believed! This is very odd, and needs to be investigated.

But I’ve gotta be honest with you: It makes me sick to my stomach to hear people compare the best of their faith with the worst in others’ faiths. Of course your truncated version of Christianity will come out smelling like a rose! But we cannot forget that we have a legacy of violence, terror, shame, and intimidation along with the worst of Islam. We too have ‘texts of terror’ in our sacred scriptures, and we do best to handle them with the utmost care so as not to let their volatility spill out into the fragility of our interconnected lives. How is caricaturing a faith held by a billion people worldwide loving our enemies? How is it going to show them the love of Christ?

Continue reading ‘Loving Neighbors – and even ‘enemies’ – in the Wake of Ft. Hood’


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