Thursday, February 25, 2010

Brian McLaren's New Kind of Christianity

Brian McLaren now blogs at the liberal Huffington Post website. In a post on his new book, A New Kind of Christianity, he makes it clear that he is finished with conservatism and advocates a constantly evolving religion that has no fixed reference points and which is therefore able to develop and change along with its host culture in such a way as never to come into real, out and out conflict with the culture. He writes:

"It is the past around which many faith communities orient themselves - faithfully preserving a deposit or rule or articulation of faith that they inherited from their ancestors. That orientation engenders a sense of dignity and strength, along with an inherently conservative bias. In this past-orientation, most or all of the important questions are already answered once and for all. Our job, should we choose to accept it, is to learn and accept those answers, and make sure our children and grandchildren do the same.

Of course I agree that we must preserve and conserve what is precious and good from our past, and even our embarrassments and mistakes must be remembered so we can learn from and be humbled by them. But there's another way to conceive of our faith communities, an identity that includes but is not limited to a conservative orientation. We can see ourselves at heart as creative, prophetic, progressive, emergent, missional, and forward-looking people on a quest. A quest orientation challenges us to retain all our memories from the past, but then turns our focus towards the future, a future we hope not merely to endure, but by God's grace, to help create.

A quest orientation unleashes for us the transformative power of questions. Instead of seeing ourselves as a community bound together exclusively by age-old answers, we see ourselves as a community animated by what humorist-philosopher Garrison Keillor calls (with a wink) "life's persistent questions" - the questions that each generation struggles with and then passes on to the next generation to become their own. On the macro scale, those questions are few and deep: Who are we? How and why are we here? What is the good life? What matters most? What dangers, toils, and snares must we be careful to avoid? What is sacred, and why? I think all of us know that simply memorizing rote answers to these kinds of questions, while it has some real value, shapes a life far less radically than spending a lifetime asking, re-asking, struggling, and grappling with them does."

Here he tells us that the frequent Old Testament calls to remember, teach your children, memorize the Torah and be faithful to tradition and the many New Testament calls to "hold fast to the faith," "guard the gospel," and "pass on what you have received" are really just obstacles that create the kind of faith that has an inherently conservative bias, which for him is a bad thing.

The key sentence comes after he tells us that: "Of course I agree that we must preserve and conserve what is precious and good from our past, and even our embarrassments and mistakes must be remembered so we can learn from and be humbled by them." The first part of this sentence seems encouraging: so he does admit that we have to preserve something. But what he gives with one hand, he takes back with the other by implying that there is just as much bad in our tradition that needs to be jettisoned as good to be preserved.

There is no hint here that there is any criterion by which the distinction must be made, that is, no fixed tradition concerning the life, death, resurrection, ascension and second coming of Jesus Christ that is constant and to which the rest of our doctrine must bear witness. Instead, in the next sentence, he tells us that there is a different way to conceive of faith communities (which for him replace the Church, being more amorphous and less defined) and he tells us that this better way is to be open to the future, which we will create, instead of being chained to the past.

One could hardly ask for a clearer expression of modern, liberal Christianity in the tradition of 19th century culture Protestantism. The fact that this is served up as "postmodern" and "new" is a deception that can only fool the gullible and the ignorant. Liberal progressivism is not new, not is it anything but a continuation of the same old same old of modernity.

What we see here is not so much a "new kind of Christianity" as an "old kind of heresy."

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