How to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference

Review of Brian McLaren: A New Kind of Christianity

Brian McLaren’s new book A New Kind of Christianity addresses ten critical questions that he believes are transforming the faith. Christianity is in crisis – perhaps on the scale of the Reformation or the Great Schism between East and West (cf. Phyllis Tickle), perhaps at the end of a much longer historical period that began with the conversion of the Roman empire (cf. Harvey Cox). The only way to come through this crisis, McLaren believes, is to ask these hard questions and allow them to shake our conventional paradigms. This will launch us on a ‘quest for new ways to believe and new ways to live and serve faithfully in the way of Jesus, a quest for a new kind of Christian faith’ (18).

The project is no less presumptuous than McLaren’s earlier work and certainly no less controversial. It is not difficult to ask hard questions. It is not difficult to imagine new – or at least newish – kinds of Christian faith. Indeed, much of the criticism levelled against the book will be along the lines that it is really just an old kind of heresy. So if we are prepared to accept the premise that Christianity is in crisis and that something new has to emerge (I am, but many are not), the really important question will be whether the book is able to define a passageway into the future that genuinely takes us beyond the modern conservative-liberal battleground without losing sight of its origins in the biblical narrative. That demands from the reader a willingness both to re-imagine boldly and to think critically – a willingness both to ride the magic carpet of McLaren’s visionary rhetoric and to ask whether magic carpets really exist. It’s not an easy trick to pull off, and we are unlikely to do either McLaren or scripture justice, but I want at least to give the first question a shot and then see where we might go from there.