Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A Confused Kind of Christian

Somebody told me there was a revolution on in Christianity. Being that I'm a product of that famous revolution that happened 'round about 1776 I decided to see if this new revolution was worth joining. I managed to get my hands on a copy of Brian D. McLaren's book A New Kind of Christian, which is apparently the first in a series of books that advocates a shift from 'Modern Christianity' to 'Postmodern Christianity' (this shift is the aforementioned revolution). I read the book relatively slowly, taking notes and trying to see what McLaren had in mind. After reading ANKoC I must say that his vision is not exactly clear (I've been told he is more clear in his subsequent books). I'll explain as we go on.

The book opens with a frustrated pastor who befriends a high school science teacher named 'Neo.' Neo is the postmodern Christian hero of the book, and he introduces the pastor to new way of ministering. Supposedly the Modern Era epistemology that includes pigeon-holing, dissecting God in the name of theology, and reading the Bible as an answer key in the back of text book is out of touch with where the culture is going and if we are going to continue to minister we need to take the postmodern turn.

I find it interesting that almost all of the problems McLaren pointed out I have pointed out to others in the past (and McLaren would certainly put me in the modernist camp). I agree that we do pigeon-hole things and try to make difficult things too black and white. I agree that in the pursuit of theology we often lose emotional connection with God (though I wonder what McLaren would say about me, since my most intense emotional experiences in recent years have come in my theology classes). Again, I agree that the Bible is not to be read as a cheap and easy answer book. What I never heard McLaren state is a compelling reason to go postmodern. The closest thing I read was that this is where our culture was heading, which reminds me less of the early church and more of those who kowtowed to the logical positivists in the early 20th Century. I suspect that postmodernism is going to meet a fate similar to that of logical positivism. Neither are tenable.

McLaren also has the tendency to waver back and forth between epistemologies, grabbing Modern concepts whenever it suits him. His idea of theology involves asking questions like "if God is like this, what would the universe be like?" Funny, it seems to me that many of my 'modern' compatriots are asking this question and that others have been asking it for centuries! This very question is the sort of question that gave rise to science! It seems that McLaren comes perilously close to 'dissecting God' who supposedly can't be studied (p. 161).

As I read I kept waiting for a 'postmodern bombshell' that could readily identify where McLaren was coming from, but I never got it. I never read phrases like "reality is a construct of our language" although he did come close on page 162 when he was talking about his 'dream seminary.' "We'd help students construct their own models of reality..." he said, but added "...their model isn't reality." But McLaren, through Neo, never says if he believes we can get at reality at all.

There were some good things in the book, such as Neo's recommendation that the Church become more involved in the community and that people should stop 'head-hunting' in evangelism. I particularly liked the comment about how viewing someone as a project takes the friendship out of 'friendship evangelism'. We can adapt culturally to those who have a postmodern bent, but embracing it would be just as much a mistake as fully embracing modernism. It's maddening that McLaren seems so happy to dive head first into this new epistemology while criticizing those who dove headfirst into the last one.

The sad fact of the matter is that postmodernism as a philosophy is a dying paradigm. It will certainly have its adherents for the next half-century or so, but ultimately it will not survive because God has built rationality into us. Finding truth is far too important to humans, even postmodern ones like Neo.

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