How can we translate our quest into action?
Brian closes his book by calling us to follow his lead and evolve to a higher community which consists of “Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and others” and “welcomes all people to mature and advance in the human quest.” He warns that those of us who haven’t fully evolved “are likely to mock it or condemn it as something naïve, silly, or even evil,” but that’s just because we are defending the status quo from “innovators” like him (nice to see a “postmodern innovator” use my term to describe himself).
Brian laments the difficulty of educating us less evolved folks during his “Everything Must Change Tour.” He explains: “During the Q & R session, most questioners simply ignored the four crises I had talked about. Instead, they focused on arguing fine points of theology with me—all within their conventional paradigms. It was as if they said, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, a billion people live on less than a dollar a day. But you’re decentralizing our preferred theory of atonement!’ Or ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re in danger of environmental collapse and religiously inspired catastrophic war, but you seem to be questioning our conventional ways of reading the Bible about homosexuality!’”
Brian continues: “This frustrated me. And frankly it angered and depressed me. But gradually I realized that my conversation partners simply couldn’t address life-and-death issues like poverty, the planet, and peace from within the conventional paradigms they inherited. Their inherited conventional paradigms—shaped as we have seen by the Greco-Roman narrative, founded on a constitutional reading of the Bible, and so on—rendered those life-and-death issues invisible, insubstantial, and unaddressable.”
It’s hard to believe that Brian is this arrogant and naïve. The reason people asked him about theology is not because they lack the paradigm to address poverty, the planet, and peace—the greatest social work in history has sprung and is still being done by Christians with “conventional paradigms.” The reason they asked is because they had, as it turns out, exceedingly legitimate questions about Brian’s orthodoxy. I’m pretty sure that Franklin Graham isn’t asked about homosexuality or the atonement when he speaks about Samaritan’s Purse. If Brian chooses to endorse the orthodox faith, he would likewise find an engaged evangelical audience. The problem lies entirely with him, not us.
Brian concludes the book by saying that he hopes “to reinvigorate the dialogue by having many of us come out of our closets and admit we have been asking these and other important questions in secret. We must stop being ashamed of our questions, and we must stop pretending to be content with unsatisfying answers.”
This admission raises questions about Brian’s integrity. For years he has been assuring us that he is a Christian who sounds different because he is trying to reach this postmodern generation for Christ. He told us that we could trust him. He is simply being a missionary, saying things which might not play well in the sending church but which are necessary to win the hearts of his target audience. Now he concedes that for some time he has known that he really did think differently from us but was afraid to say so.
How long has this been going on? When did Brian begin to think and believe like the people he was trying to reach? How long has he been holding out on us? He owes an apology to those Christians who went to bat for him—the ones who took him at his word and told their colleagues that Brian was merely missional rather than heretical. And while we’re on the subject of apologies, don’t more than a few people owe a big one to D.A. Carson?
I am not optimistic that A New Kind of Christianity is going to “reinvigorate the dialogue.” If the comments on my series of blogposts are any indication, the book ended a conversation that had never really begun. There seems to be little point in discussing this further, but perhaps both sides can agree on this: we have irreconcilably different views on Scripture, God, Jesus, sin, and salvation, and as such it is impossible to unite in a common understanding of the gospel. We are better off going our separate ways, convinced that the other is irremediably wrong and praying that God would bring the other to repentance and to his great salvation. We may not agree on much of anything, but at least we know where we are.