(Based on A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren;
The entire book A New Kind of Christianity is predicated on the idea that the modern world has undergone a seismic shift in the past few decades, and that the church has yet to respond to it, and has actually more often stood in defiance of the shift, to the church’s own detriment. This same argument has been articulated by countless people in various ways, including McLaren himself in his previous works. The purpose of this blog, notably, also takes this assumption for granted… as I have come to believe that we need to seriously re-imagine the ways in which we speak about faith in the church in this emerging new world.
Arguments to demonstrate this (and the consequent need for change) come in a variety of flavors; many take a historical approach to the issue based on the hopelessly-broad and intimidating term “postmodernism.”
[I tried to make the word look big and intimidating… but you have to use sans serif font when you write about postmodernity—I’m pretty sure there would be a rule about it, that is, if postmodernity had any rules—and NOTHING looks intimidating in sans serif; it’s utterly impossible. How underwhelming.]
These arguments will undoubtedly mention the people deemed responsible for issuing in the modern era (Descartes, Galileo, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, etc. ) that confronted the religious and political powers of their days, by changing our conception of how we come to knowledge. The modern argument was that our knowledge of the world need not be forced upon us by powers, but that people could discover certitude for themselves. In the new shift that began last century, we are discovering the ultimate futility of this enterprise. So now, we no longer have governing authorities that determine what we hold to be true, but we neither have the capacity within ourselves to (fully?) ascertain what is true.
*Such arguments might also focus on the implication behind the “knowledge-shift:” the shift towards the individual in modern society… and that the postmodern world has discovered the limits of individualism.
*Or, they might focus on consumerism and economic myths of equal opportunity, which, as we’ve come to realize, aren’t really all that equal.
*Some might focus on the advent of modern politics, education, and (perhaps especially) science, and how each have been challenged at a fundamental level.
Postmodern pluralism, relativism, globalism, and uncertainty. (AKNC, p.8) [Could you perhaps find a SCARIER grouping of words for modern Christians? I, and others, would argue, however, that postmodernism might actually help redeem the Church, and create opportunities for faith!… That discussion is for later, though.]
There’s another way to make the argument, however…. for the explanation of the recent shift and the need for change… because the above explications go over like a lead balloon for some, and others just can never get past the loaded language of “postmodernism,” “pluralism,” “relativism,” etc…. words that Christians have been conditioned to fear…. even if you’re not entirely sure what the words mean.
That’s the personal testimony approach.
McLaren spends the first few pages of the first chapter of the book taking this approach—although he’s not making an argument per se. Yet I as I read am reminded of the persuasive power of testimony, as he describes one of his various speaking events that prompted protests, boycotts, warnings, and an attack of yellow leaflets on the windshields of every car in the parking lot. Yet after he finishes his presentation and meets and greets with attenders, he hears story after story of gratitude:
“(from a pastor) I would have left the ministry and the Christian faith altogether if it weren’t for your book A New Kind of Christian.”
“This was the most refreshing day spiritually that I have ever had in my life.”
“I was told terrible things about you. I don’t see what the fuss is about. [You and me both, buddy.]”
“(Former MK turned agnostic) Today…I feel like I just may be able to believe again.”
“ (Woman in Catholic church) I tend to feel like a second-class citizen (in the church)…but today I feel that there’s a place for me in God’s work.”
And this last one:
“ (Former wife of former pastor) You’ve put into words what I’ve always known was true, but was afraid to say.”
[This is your brain.]
[This is your brain on postmodernity… (pick the one that fits you)]
For some, talk about a “postmodern Christianity” creates a cranial nuclear explosion— the attempt to combine two utterly irreconcilable things. For others, however, it sings of (dare we say?) truth, and actually RESOLVES the tension that is felt when attempting to think of faith and life through our increasingly outmoded Christian lenses framed by modernity.
I am part of the latter group… I wrestled with my faith on and off my entire life—although I am thankful that I never let go of it completely. But the aspects that seemed to bother me about theology and Scripture were taboo subjects, largely forcing me to explore these questions on my own.
But it wasn’t until I began to let go of certain aspects of my need for CONTROL regarding my faith (a precondition for modern faith) that I was free to let the entire thing unravel. And it wasn’t until it began to unravel that I was free to began weaving something entirely new— and as I did so, I found the new weaving stronger, and yet more pliable, than what I had before—and my harrowing wrestling was replaced by gentle questioning and deepening.
I needed help to get here—- friends in college, my own explorations of the scriptures and the Holy Spirit, and seminary were HUGE parts of it. But it was also writers, who “put into words what I’ve always known was true, but was afraid to say.” Brian McLaren was one of those writers.
Simply put—without the “new conversation,” I’m not certain that I would be where I am today as a Christian… and I know I speak for thousands of others as well. Isn’t that reason enough for skeptics to take a closer, and perhaps less skeptical, look?