Brian McLaren here answers his own question: ‘To Get To The Other’.
The Hard Sell
I was intrigued, and drawn in, but suspected I was in for a bumpy ride: his publishers describe the work as ‘provocative’ and it is tagged ‘heresy‘ on amazon, Rob Bell gives him a rave review (not in itself a recommendation):
‘The thing I love about Brian is that he’s kind and intelligent and funny and easy to talk to and in no time you’re deep into conversation until it hits you: this man has a very, very radical message. He actually believes that Jesus and his followers can change the world. This book is no exception – he starts with a joke but quickly you realize just how serious he is about doing what Jesus teaches us to do. Helpful, timely, and really, really inspiring.’
But so does Richard Rohr, whom I much admire:
‘I think Brian McLaren is a spiritual genius! Not only does he have the courage to say what must and can be said, but he says it with a deep knowledge of both Scriptures and Tradition, and then says it very well besides – in ways that both the ordinary layperson and the scholar can respect and understand. You can’t get any better than that, which is why I call him a genius!’
Brian McLaren has 22 books in print, This one, published on 27 September, is his fourth book published this year. His previous record was three in 2006. He has a website, from which I learnt that he is touring Britain from 29th November- 5th December, organised by Greenbelt. I begin to feel overwhelmed, not to say brow-beaten. And then I begin to read.
The Book Itself
You can read the first two chapters here. The first quarter of the book is taken up with Brian McLaren’s main idea, that we should be nicer to those of other religions, and that we should not seek to convert them but rather to find common ground. He expresses the difficulty pithily:
To accept and love God, must I betray my neighbour of another religion? To accept and love my neighbour, must I betray the God of my religion?
He writes of discussions with Jews and Moslems in which he finds that they too regard Jesus as a great teacher and prophet. This seems to come as a surprise to him, and he evidently expects it to come as a surprise to his readership. I doubt, however, whether it would come as a surprise to many Thinking Anglicans, to borrow a label. Thus far, I successfully resisted the charms of Pastor McLaren, while having to frequently stop myself from muttering ‘this does not describe the attitudes of any Christians I know’. But he is a born story-teller and the pages turned rapidly as I read – I was not tempted to lay it aside.
In passing, McLaren gives an excellent exposition of Pentecostalism:
…three of the deepest secrets [are] humanity, vitality and sincerity. When my friend spoke, he wasn’t a ‘human thinking’ addressing humans thinking: he spoke as a feeling human being to fellow feeling human beings of flesh and blood. (p139)…[but] Pentecostals don’t own the Holy Spirit.
He then moves on to the sweeping changes he thinks we need to make in our liturgy (and I began to see why he is called provocative, though I can see nothing heretical in what he proposes). In particular, he would like to change the teaching points of the lectionary cycle (pp160-7).
Next, he launches into ‘All things bright and beautiful’ and the iniquities of the (rarely sung) verse (The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, he made them high or lowly and ordered their estate‘). He proposes several alternatives (eg All who thirst for justice, who serve among the poor, forging tools for farming, from weapons made for war) – poor Mrs Alexander, a woman of her time and place!
Onwards to his attitude towards homosexuality (pp186-7).
I was the guest of an Evangelical organisation that had an official position against homosexuality…on the other hand, my inherited conservative thinking on the subject had changed, and I was now working to protect people from discrimination rather than add to it.
A sideways excursion into the difference between a table and an altar for the Eucharist, with their different symbolism (pp 196-203).
And so on. The book is like a long fireside conversation with a man who is ‘aflame with the love of God’. You might have difficulty in getting a word in edgeways, but you would come away reinvigorated and with your love for God rekindled. If that sounds attractive, this is a book you must read.
So imagine, then, Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed crossing the road to encounter one another. Imagine us following them. What will we discover together in that crossing? Surely, it will be holy and humbling in that sacred space. Surely, there will be joy, grace and peace. Surely, justice, truth and love. We will find hospitality there, not hostility, and friendship, not fear, and it will be good – good for our own well-being, good for the poor and forgotten, good for our grandchildren’s grandchildren and good even for the birds of the air and the flowers in the meadow and the fish out at sea. God will say ‘This is very good’. And we will say. ‘Amen’.
Brian McLaren is a bestselling author, internationally acclaimed speaker and spiritual leader in the emerging church movement. Named one of Time magazine’s 25 most influential evangelical Christians, McLaren was a pastor for over 20 years. He is a frequent guest on radio and television programmes, and an in-demand blogger on faith and public policy.