Friday, August 15, 2014

'a new kind of christianity'

Brian McLaren is a pastor and well-known voice in what has been called the emerging church, a movement among post-evangelical Christians away from the popular stereotypes of moral scolds, right wing politics, and generally unpleasant behaviors and ideologies.

"A New Kind of Christianity" is one of McLaren's attempts not only to deconstruct some of the more difficult aspects of evangelical Christianity, such as its belief in the eternal torment of those outside the camp, but also to understand better what Jesus and his disciples meant in their original first-century context. From there, he projects forward, to how this different understanding could affect the relationship churches and Christians have with the larger society, with members of other religions, with gays and lesbians, and so on.

McLaren begins his book by tracing the influence of Greek philosophy on a collection of writings that came from a Hebrew culture with radically different views of evil, God and human nature. From there, he makes the argument that some doctrines held firmly by many evangelicals reflect a perspective that would have seemed alien and baffling to biblical authors and their audience, such as the belief in the eternal, conscious torment of sinners at the hands of a loving God.

After this and related arguments -- for example, that Jesus should be the lens Christians understand other biblical writers through, rather than viewing Jesus through the lens of Paul or later philisophers -- McLaren lays out a sweeping ethos for how he believes the church should address social issues such as same-sex marriage, war and the military-industrial complex, religious pluralism, environmental responsibility, and so on.

The book is challenging, and thought-provoking; and even among those not inclined to agree with McLaren and his conclusions, the questions he raises should lead to deep and meaningful discussions.

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