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Brian McLaren: A New Kind of Christian

 

Brian D. McLaren, A New Kind of Christian: A tale of two friends on a spiritual journey (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001), 173 pages, ISBN 9780787955991.

Brian D. McLaren, The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of A New Kind of Christian (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 203 pages, ISBN 9780787963873.

Brian McLaren’s book may leave you feeling angry, relieved, concerned or even confused, but I doubt it will leave any unaffected. While A New Kind of Christian may seem to be less about doctrine and more about Christian living, nothing strikes closer to the heart of our doctrines than questioning the way we live out what we believe.

Although a work of fiction, McLaren sees his book as more a “philosophical dialogue” (p. xviii) than a novel. In 1994 McLaren found himself so discouraged with pastoring and Christianity that he wrote in his journal, “One year from today I will not be in the ministry” (p. ix). “At the time I could see only two alternatives: (1) continue practicing and promoting a version of Christianity that I had deepening reservations about or (2) leave Christian ministry, and perhaps the Christian path, altogether. There was a third alternative that I hadn’t yet considered: learn to be a Christian in a new way.” (pp. ix-x) That was the beginning of a journey that would lead to a new understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

The story is about a pastor (Dan Poole) who is contemplating leaving the ministry. He seeks counsel with one of his daughter’s high school teachers (Neil Edward Oliver or Neo) who serves as sort of a composite of the folks who helped the author in his time of questioning and reevaluation.

Have we cast the Bible in the wrong role in our lives? What does it mean to be saved? Is the modern Christian view of sin actually dangerous? As you read the conversations between Dan and Neo, you will find as I did that you are not a mere bystander. These issues cut to core of our Christian lives. To put it bluntly, these are not “safe” topics.

You can’t talk about this sort of thing with just anybody. People worry about you. They may think you’re changing sides, turning traitor. They may talk about you as if you came down with some communicable disease. So you keep this sort of think like a dirty secret, this doubt that is not really a doubt about God or Jesus or faith but about our take on God, our version of Jesus, our way of faith. You let it out only when you feel you have found someone you can trust (p. xv).

The Story We Find Ourselves In is a continuation of the story of the first book that takes a turn for the practical. What does living as a new kind of Christian entail? What can you expect to happen in your life? How will it effect your church, your relationships, and your walk with God? Using, among other things, the thorny subject of Darwinian evolution, McLaren shows how a “new kind of Christian” may react to real issues.

I was pleasantly surprised by McLaren’s ability to write fiction that is interesting as well as informative. The reading was enjoyable, and quick, which was quite an accomplishment considering the subject matter. These are important books. They may help identify concerns and chart a new course for those who are feeling uneasy in their Christianity. For those more content with their walk of faith they will at the very least challenge you to take a fresh look.

Reviewed by Mike Dies

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2004

About the Author: Michael J. Dies is the reviews editor for Pneuma Review. He and his family live in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area.

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