|The Barnabas Ministry
A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a
Brian McLaren has written a stimulating book that is
simply a must-read for anybody interested in current trends in
and doubly so for someone recovering from a rough church experience.
This is a tale of modernism and post-modernism, and if
those terms are unknown to you, this book gives a thoughtful discussion
of what they mean.
Today, most expressions of the Christian faith have
been defined in a
context, but with the passage of time that definition is becoming less
and less useful. McLaren utilizes a fictional discussion between a
pastor and a high
school science teacher to discuss the difference between modernism and
post-modernism, and how a new approach might solve the problems that
modernism cannot solve. To illustrate, let me take excerpts from the
science teacher's list defining modernism:
These traits are found not just in society, but also in
religion. For example, modernist churches seek to define themselves
with a precise, analytical approach to doctrine and practice.
Evangelism/conversion is seen as a matter of conquest. The
quasi-machine idea is advanced that if you just do a, b and c, then x,
will result. Organization is critical to modernist
churches because it enables control and perpetuating the conquest
of conversion. Individualism is a concession,
but faith is made an individual thing (what did you do, etc.) instead of a
community thing (what did we
do?) and is constrained by the judgments of the "sacred science" (to
borrow James Lifton's term) embodied in the group's doctrines and
practices. In keeping with the near-scientific certainty that modernist
solutions bring, it provides wide-ranging controls not only with all of
the answers, but
also in defining the questions. Anything off the map isn't deemed
discussion, because the precise definition "has it all covered."
The problem with modernism in the church is that it
doesn't fit all of the biblical data, nor does it really work in every
area of spiritual life. Further, faith wasn't intended to be broken
down into the atomistic set of beliefs and practices that often define
churches today. If God wanted us to have a list of things to believe
and do, he certainly could have provided that. But biblical
revelation is given in a human and historical context, and modernistic
approaches fall short of capturing it.
Modernism was a wonderful instrument that
brought us out of the medieval age. But it could only
take us so far. To quote the science teacher character of McLaren's
... like a contract or constitution that is updated with more and more footnotes, fine print and other amendments, people try to keep the old contract alive, but eventually the amendments outweigh the original document, and someone says, ""Why don't we just start over from scratch on a new one?" (p. 32-33).
McLaren's tale winds us through a pastor's experiences, how modernist definitions and solutions just don't fit, but how there has to be something out there that is a better fit with Scripture and life. He tells the tale in an entertaining, captivating way as his pastor character wrestles with what to do with his problematic modernistic paradigm both as a pastor and as a believer.
This book will speak to victims of spiritual abuse in a
special way. I can see my own bad church experience has its roots in
the whole modernist way of doing things. If church leaders buy
modernist mindset with just a pinch of zeal and naiveté, people
will go through a
predictable cycle of learning, excitement, disenchantment and
disengagement. If you throw in other factors that make the success of
the system more important (like the needs of leadership to prove
modernist approach can become a mighty tool for abuse. But even if
those factors aren't there, people in a modernist situation might be
accused of failure, apostasy or heresy if they suggest the approach
If this pattern sounds
familiar to you-- read the book! You'll
find a great tale of healing that speaks both to the Scriptures and to
your experience. And for everybody else, A New Kind of Christian provides
plenty of food for thought about putting faith into our post-modern
Copyright © 2006 John Engler. All rights reserved.