A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren
Let me start by saying that I hesitate to even write a review of this book because there stands a chance that even posting a picture of this book on my blog might lead someone to think that I am endorsing Brian McLaren. I am not endorsing Brian McLaren or this book!!! However, I do understand the necessity to stretch myself, and think differently, and read widely from different people. So I read this book to do those things, and also to help keep myself abreast of modern, popular, Christian books.
I’ve heard and known for quite some time that McLaren’s beliefs and teachings were sketchy, but I was unaware of how sketchy until I trekked though A New Kind of Christian. Simply put, many of the beliefs that McLaren espouses in this book are outside of what can be called Christian orthodoxy. I believe that the Bible is intentionally grey on some issues, leaving us room to discuss and debate and seek the leading of the Holy Spirit, but much of the Bible is straight forward. To deny a clear teaching of the Bible is sin and dangerous, and to change the Gospel message is damnable according to Paul in Galatians 1. Without a clear system of belief in place, Christianity is nothing more than a social club, and Christians are above all to be a pitied people. I’m afraid that in McLaren’s attempt (and I don’t doubt that it is an earnest attempt) to understand Christianity better, he has perhaps gotten more confused.
In A New Kind of Christian, McLaren denies or calls into question several key tenants of the faith. For example: 1) the existence of hell and punishment of unbelievers ,2) the necessity of faith in Christ, 3) the meaning of Christ’s death, 4) the universality of truth, and 5) the authority of the Bible. Calling into question these central beliefs poses a problem if you believe the Bible.
A second problem I have with this book is its understanding of the categories “modern” and “postmodern.” The good ideas (and there are quite a few) that are put forward about Christianity in A New Kind of Christian are labeled new, and original, and postmodern, but I find many of them quite old. The characters in this book categorize Christian thinking and practice into the categories of “modern” and “postmodern.” Any representation of Christianity that seems shortsighted is always put into the “modern” category, while better representations of Christianity are always labeled “postmodern.” The problem is that much of what is considered postmodern, is in reality what many faithful churches have been practicing all along. Perhaps the issue is not “modern” versus “postmodern”, but “paying attention to the Bible” versus “ignoring the Bible.”
Another third problem I have with this book is that it is an overreaction to some of “issues” in the modern church. A New Kind of Christian is a book about a fictional pastor who misunderstands the Gospel, who is burned out, and who is coming to terms with the fact that his faith is screwed-up and rather weak. He realizes that a lot of what has been labeled Christianity in his upbringing is wrong. However, in his attempt to reform his previously misguided faith, he simply takes the opposite opinion on most everything. This is all done through a seemingly authentic and academic discussion, that purports to take the Bible more seriously, but perhaps takes the Bible even less seriously. A New Kind of Christian proposes a kind of thinking that is relativistic and anti-logical. Thinking of this sort cannot logically claim any truth whatsoever. While much of the Bible literature is poetic, historical, apocalyptic, etc., much of it is also carefully arranged and logical. McLaren may want to deny a foundational / logical approach to the Christian faith, but in denying all forms of concrete thought, he necessarily has to deny many of the writings of the Apostle Paul (who did write concretely and logically). And…logically speaking, McLaren’s arguments about a non-concrete approach to the Bible are in fact concrete arguments themselves, and thus his arguments are in that regard self-defeating.
All of this to say that you probably shouldn’t read A New Kind of Christian except as an academic exercise to better understand the thinking of the emergent, liberal left. If you want to understand how to be more Biblical, read and study the Bible. McLaren adds more confusion than clarity.
I’m not saying that Brian McLaren is an idiot, or that I hate him, or anything like that (in fact I’d jump at the chance to sit down and discuss faith with him); however, I am saying that according to the Bible he would be considered a “false prophet” in regards to the Gospel. While much of what McLaren says is good, and interesting, and thought provoking, too much of what he says is also a direct dismissal of the teachings of the Bible. Unfortunately his influence amongst certain sectors of Christianity is large, and this poses a threat to the proper understanding of the Gospel. A Gospel which Jude said we should defend (Jude 3). Ultimately that is why I have taken the time to write this brief review. I’m not trying to start arguments, but rather to defend the “faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”