Food for thought #2: Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity
I have a slight problem with Brian McLaren’s graph from p. 34 of A New Kind of Christianity. His graph is shown above in the picture; my revised version is shown below.
McLaren places Eden on the level of Heaven which basically equals perfection. That might bother some but it doesn’t bother me. The only difference between my graph and his is the direction of the “Hell/Damnation” arrow. While nitpicky, I have a fundamental disagreement with McLaren on this one.
From a theological perspective, what bothers me is the downward direction of the arrow. Perhaps he drew it that way because we always think of heaven as existing above and hell existing below. I redrew it to make it a continuous straight line not only because I have semi-OCD tendencies but also because the destination as a result of condemnation is hell/damnation. It’s not a downward trajectory from condemnation but rather, a continuous path that is not separate from it. According to the Bible, this is the spiritual path that all souls are on as a result of the fall (Romans 5:17-19).
I’d also like to add that I’m interested in reading McLaren’s response to the pluralism question: “How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?” On page 21, he briefly summarizes what he’ll try to address:
So we ask: Is Jesus the only way? The only way to what? How can a belief in the uniqueness and universality of Christ be held without implying the religious supremacy and exclusivity of the Christian religion?
I think it’s an interesting question to posit and answer, oops, I mean “respond to.” (There are no answers according to McLaren, only responses in an effort to stimulate and continue conversation. For a great Biblical counseling perspective on this conversation, check out Bob Kellermen’s series in which he provides responses to McLaren’s questions.)
So here are my initial responses before reading the chapter in which McLaren expounds on the pluralism question:
- Is Jesus the only way? “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” — John 14:6
- The only way to what? God the Father and His house. Thomas specifically asks about this. See all of John 14.
- How can a belief in the uniqueness and universality of Christ be held without implying the religious supremacy and exclusivity of the Christian religion? While I appreciate McLaren’s question here, I’d rather “lob back” in response, as he’d say, that there’s a supremacy and exclusivity that’s inherent in Christ rather than the Christian religion. I don’t think any system of belief is foolproof. I believe only Christ is. Religion muddies waters (how many Christian denominations are there?); Jesus Christ is crystal clear. That being said, I believe there is a uniqueness and universality of Christ that transcends all beliefs and religions but there is a supremacy and exclusivity that is inherent in the God/man rather than the religion. (I’m sure this is something I will clarify and elaborate on as I progress within McLaren’s book.)
I’m excited about reading through A New Kind of Christianity. I have an open mind about this and am totally willing to transform my Christian faith and live it in a new way with only one caveat: it must remain true to the Bible. If McLaren argues something that goes against what the Bible says, I’ll point it out. We know very little about Jesus apart from the Bible. And we would know nothing about Jesus’ teachings without the Bible. So holding McLaren and his questions and responses to a Biblical standard is neither unreasonable nor unfair since he is talking about the the Christian faith.
I hope you’ll join me in my journey through this book. If you don’t know who Brian McLaren is or what a little bit of background on what part of the Christian faith he comes from, please check out my series on the emergent movement.