Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity, Introduction

I read the introductory three chapters of A New Kind of Christianity, and so far it’s an updated version of the Brian we’ve seen before.  He claims to be “a mild-mannered guy” who is only looking for a new way to be a Christian that will boost the declining numbers in our churches, and he can’t understand why his critics respond with “fear,” “clenched teeth,” and “suspicion and accusation.”  Brian’s really good at winning sympathy, and soon I was loathing myself for ever politely disagreeing with such a nice man.

But then I remembered that this debate about the Christian faith—which he and his friends started—is not a personality contest.  You can’t dismiss what Christians have always believed and then expect a free pass because you’re likeable.  And just below the surface of Brian’s humble, can’t-we-all-just-get-along vibe is an accusatory tone that repeatedly compares his critics to a religious Gestapo whose leaders defend their conservative beliefs because they don’t want to lose their jobs.

That doesn’t sound like me.  I am an easy-going guy who just wants to love Jesus.  But to love Jesus, I have to know and believe something about him.  Jesus is not an elastic symbol for whatever we happen to value (e.g., inclusive love), but is an actual person who can be known, trusted, and loved.

So why doesn’t Brian want me to know and believe the truth about Jesus?  He says that his new kind of Christianity is led by Doug Pagitt, who isn’t sure that Jesus is God; Marcus Borg, who argues that Jesus is dead; and Harvey Cox, a Harvard Divinity professor who wants to blow the whole thing up and construct a new view of God that will connect with our secular age.

Brian says that Cox’s new book, The Future of Faith, divides church history into the Age of Faith (pre-Constantine), the Age of Belief (from Constantine until today), and the Age of the Spirit (yeah!  That’s us!).  This tripartite division of history sounds similar to the system taught by Joachim of Fiore (a medieval Jack Van Impe), except that Joachim said that the Age of the Spirit would climax around 1260 (about 700 years before Jack’s first miss).

The benefit for Brian is that Cox’s model enables him to dismiss everything from Constantine until now—ecumenical creeds, councils, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and Piper—as belonging to an imperialistic Age of Belief when doctrine was used to “burn and banish heretics.”  We now live in the fresh air of the Spirit, who frees us from our confining and mean-spirited, doctrinaire past.  Brian says that A New Kind of Christianity will show the way forward by responding to 10 essential questions—which sounds like a great plan for a book (see Don’t Stop Believing).

On Tuesday I will begin blogging through Brian’s questions.  I wonder if I’ll know and love Jesus better when I’m done?


Add yours →

  1. I tried to read A Generous Orthodoxy, and got to about page three when I decided I had had enough of the chip on his shoulder towards the more conservative Christians.

    He may have some good ideas, but he needs to drop the “us versus them” mentality.

    Looking forward to your discussion!


  2. Looking forward to taking the journey with you, Dr. Wittmer.

  3. I read that one last summer… have fun.

    I am likewise looking forward to your response to it.

  4. I think there are many who have awakened with regards to this new kind of christianity this past year – perhaps with a bit of help from our current POTUS.

    You can purchase a ticket for the Roseland Theater in Portland to hear our hometown twister of Scripture, Rob Bell, on February 14th for $63 seat (cheap compared to prior “concerts”)?

  5. Thanks for shooting straight regarding Brian’s latest work. I look forward to hearing more.

    As you wrote, “this debate…is not a personality contest.” It’s a point that needs to be made for a key part of “conversations” in this domain seem to be a “pro hominem” (if you will) arguments/defenses of Brian and his friends. It’s often as though likable personality and doing good stuff for under-privileged folks makes one unassailable to theological critique.

  6. Thanks, Mike, for your insights on Brian’s interesting way of creating us-vs-them dichotomies. In my interaction with him, he seems genuinely hurt and frustrated with those who oppose him by creating these kinds of dichotomies, but then, he goes and does it all the time.

  7. Ok… Right out of the gate flags go up; faith contrasted with belief, spirit seperated and contrasted from faith and belief.

    Modernism tended to break things down into their seperate elements and contrast them. Post-modernity was to be supposedly more wholistic. Is the author actually selectively working from modern presuppositions while trying to be post-modern? Looking forward to your continuing posts on this…


  8. Really floor seats for Rob for $300? I could see him for free if I went to his church. Why would I spend $300 for a pastor? Srsly?

  9. Thanks for being willing to not ‘just-all-get-along’, Mike. Your discernment is a gift to the Church.

  10. Jonathan, My question exactly, especially when I am familiar with many struggling Churches. I see that the tickets for floor seats to see Rob Bell are up to $350 now, ironic.

  11. Yooper – you realize those Rob Bell tickets that are on sale are scalpers tickets, correct? Tickets through the actual theatre are $20.

  12. As most of you; I’m also heavy over this liberal movement that’s awash in the western world. I believe in warning, agonizing, blowing the trumpet…..but we’ve got to do it in the spirit of the Apostle Paul when he said to the Galations, “For whom I am in travil until Christ is formed fully in you…” To those who enjoy ready Mclaren and Bell, I would simply suggest ready a Tozer or Ravenhill book after every emergent one….It’s not the words as much as it is the immersing in an environment until one can no longer handle the Truth….

  13. Wow. Excellent observations. I look forward to receiving notifications by email of your continuing blogs. Keep up the good work!

  14. I also got part way through AGO. About every other page I seethed with wonder at whether this guy had ever really read the Bible. Thanks for this blog. Looking forward to more.

  15. Mike,

    Do you factually know that Doug Pagitt “isn’t sure that Jesus is God”? Have you confirmed that with Doug?

    Just to be honest here.
    Randy Buist

  16. Randy:

    I heard him say that at an Emergent conference in 2004 or 2005. When Doug said that every Christian belief must be put on the table for possible revision, someone from the floor asked if that included the deity and humanity of Christ, and Doug said yes.

  17. But your assumption that Doug “isn’t sure that Jesus is God” isn’t a fair assumption.

    When Doug said that all Christian beliefs should be put on the table for revision, he doesn’t say that he’s willing to revise them. He’s stating that it’s allowable to ask these questions of the faith.

    When David wrote laments, he would ask such questions as ‘God where are you?’ ‘God, are you really God?’ He was also asking and challenging the nature and existence of Yahweh.

    Is this not the case?

  18. McLaren’s constant ‘why does everybody hate me?’ mentality makes him out to be a self-proclaimed Emergent martyr.

    McLaren is accusing the church of historically using doctrine as a tool to control people. But isn’t he doing the exact same thing with his anti-doctrine? His constant guilting people into letting go of their doctrine so that we can finally begin to fix this world (because the church hasn’t been doing this for the past 2,000 years?) is a mental and emotional control. He wants everybody to just get along, but, in his eyes, this requires us to first let go of our dogmatic traditions and embrace secular culture.

  19. I look forward to your writings. Do you comment on any other books that you read?

  20. Interesting that “christian” bookstores carry this and other books by McLaren (et al), however, I have yet to find books authored by known mormons, Jehovah witnesses, muslims…which smells of II Peter 2 to me.

  21. I want to address the most important issue the true church of Jesus Christ faces today. We who have been born-again by the Spirit of God, and whose lives have been transformed by the Word of God, face an enemy today of size and strength that vastly outnumbers the few whom God has chosen for this time to represent His sovereignty in the salvation of man.

    My Blog:

  22. Christian Books is the stuff i like coz i alway read the bible and i am a very religious person ”

  23. No entiendo tu opinión acerca de los ejercicios con mancuernas.

  24. Hey there this is kinda of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML.

    I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding skills so I wanted to get guidance from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

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