Archives For Brian McLaren

From A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith  by Brian D. McLaren:

We’re following the best Christian tradition of going back to Jesus and the Scriptures, so our quest for a new kind of Christianity is, in fact, a most conservative quest. In our return to our roots, however, we’re not writing off all the great sages, scholars, and saints of church history. We’re simply going back to the original Evangelists, apostles, and especially Jesus and making sure we’re as in sync with them as possible from this point forward. We’re not trying to explain away anything in the Bible. We’re simply trying to take seriously the central elements of the canonical texts that have been studiously marginalized for too long—the good news of the kingdom of God and the biblical narratives that it consummates, integrates, celebrates, and opens to all people everywhere.

From time to time on this blog I get comments from people who seem threatened by my words. They say “why are you so down on the church” or “what do you have against the church”.  When I answer them I try to assure them that I am not down of the teachings of Jesus Christ. They are very much a part of my daily life. But we have come to see Jesus more through a lens of other men and have fallen away from the words themselves.

What is happening via the emergent movement today is kind of like renovating an old house. You often must strip down layer after layer of paint that has been put on the house by many previous owners in order to see what the house originally looked like. By going back to the original words our quest for a new kind of Christianity is actually a conservative one. You might say that we are trying to restore the old kind of Christianity but with meaning to today’s world.

I know that these words will not calm many in those churches who seem fixated on reciting a man-made list of beliefs about Jesus as proof of their faith in him. They seem to think that reciting beliefs  that others have formulated about Jesus is what is expected of us.

The central elements of the text which are the words of Jesus seem to be but a shadow in many churches of this day.  The good news of the kingdom of God has been lost to recent generations.  The emergent movement that is taking place in the church today will eventually free us to understand the words of Jesus  outside of this archaic literal foundation. Origen had is right almost 1800 years ago that there is just too much inconsistencies to say all in the bible is literally true without exception.

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Of course all Christians recognize the phrase the kingdom of God from the Lord’s prayer. But the interpretation of that phrase seems to vary considerably depending on what version of Christianity you follow. Here is what Martin Luther said about it in his small catechism:

Your Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven:

What does this mean? 
The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.

How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

Luther being a firm believer in a passive form of Christianity stripped any reference to our responsibilities in helping kingdom come to earth. I believe this comes from his belief in the  total worthlessness of all humans.  This epiphany  came when he discovered one particular verse in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians: It is by grace that you are saved not be works…. Luther gave this one sentence in the Bible total priority over all the others, including even Jesus’ words and many have continued to do that since that time.

There are many today that take these words very differently. They believe that the Kingdom will come by the hands of those faithful who work for a better world. That Jesus’ commands to feed the hungry and clothe the needy are the kingdom to which he was referring. In other words they take these words as a call to action and not something to sit back and wait for. This interpretation is not new, some of the early church fathers believed it and to one degree the Catholic church still aligns with it.

The emergent movement that is now experiencing exponential growth is another of those groups. They firmly believe that Jesus’ commands are to be taken literally and as he said and I am paraphrasing here: Becoming a follower of Jesus changes everything.  Here is a quote from his book entitled A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren about the kingdom of God and its significance to the emergent movement.

Similarly, we’re discovering that the more we let Jesus’s message of the kingdom of God sink in, the more it begins to unsettle all our existing understandings and categories. It changes everything. Before this realization, we are like lawyers trying to save an old contract, adding more and more fine print on page after page, until the provisos are weightier than the original contract. (This is good work, I suppose, and must be done for a generation or two, but it is not the work to which I feel called.) At some point, though, more and more of us will finally decide that it would make more sense to go back and revise the contract from scratch. And that process has begun. It is nowhere near complete, but the cat is out of the bag; imaginations are sizzling, and exciting theological work is being done—by theologians, yes, but, equally important, by pastors, preachers, songwriters, screenwriters, producers, poets, dramatists, sculptors, photographers, painters, architects, youth leaders, community organizers, moms and dads, and thoughtful readers like you.

In the coming years all those who are currently disheartened by the legalistic and creed based versions of Christianity will discover that there is a movement emerging that takes the kingdom of God to a whole new level and gives it back its literal meaning. It changes Christianity from a “sit back and wait” religion to a an action oriented one  based on Jesus’ words.

I started out my Spiritual journey as a Catholic because that is what my parents were. I came to find out that they were only tepid Catholic as they really didn’t go to church themselves very often but more often just dropped us off and then went home.  Upon entering high school I went about twenty years moving between an inactive Christian and an agnostic verging on atheist. Then as a result of getting married I joined a Protestant congregation.  When I was going to a Catholic grade school I remember hearing a lot of things about Jesus and not much about the letters of St. Paul or any of the other “epistles”. But when I joined the Lutheran church Paul strangely seemed to be front and center on their theology.

Martin Luther’s epiphany was based on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians about being saved by grace and not works so I guess I should not have been surprised to see Paul not Jesus to be the center of that congregation’s beliefs. It was not until I started seriously studying the words of Jesus that I came to fully realize that Jesus must be the total focus.

When I started out blogging here more than four years ago I promptly got a comment from someone rather high up in the Lutheran church. He chastised me saying all the words in the Bible are from God so none are more important than any others. This statement amazed me because it said that Jesus’ words were no more important than any others in the Bible. Of course I have come, after years of serious study, to totally renounce that man-made belief.

When I came across the words below in a book entitled “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith” by Brian McLaren who is a Protestant clergy and author, they verified what I already knew:

Like a lot of Protestants, for many years I “knew” what the gospel was. I “knew” that the gospel was the message of “justification by grace through faith,” distorted or forgotten by those pesky Catholics, but rediscovered by our hero Martin Luther through a reading of our even greater hero Paul, especially his magnum opus, the Letter to the Romans. If Catholics were called “Roman Catholics” because of their headquarters in Rome, we could have been called “Romans Protestants,” because Paul’s Roman letter served as our theological headquarters……

He then asked me how I would define the gospel, and I answered as any good Romans Protestant would, quoting Romans. He followed up with this simple but annoying rhetorical question: “You’re quoting Paul. Shouldn’t you let Jesus define the gospel?” When I gave him a quizzical look, he asked, “What was the gospel according to Jesus?” A little humiliated, I mumbled something akin to “You tell me,” and he replied, “For Jesus, the gospel was very clear: The kingdom of God is at hand. That’s the gospel according to Jesus. Right?” I again mumbled something, maybe “I guess so.” Seeing my lack of conviction, he added, “Shouldn’t you read Paul in light of Jesus, instead of reading Jesus in light of Paul?”

Today I firmly believe that to be a follower of Jesus Christ we most put our almost total focus on his words. At best we should use the other authors as reinforcement of Jesus not a replacement for him as I see in many congregations today.