A New Kind of Christianity: Part 2

Now at 35% read, I have just finished the question "Is God violent?" In it, Brian continues his idea that the Bible should not be read as a constitution, but as a library. He goes on to propose that we view the books of the Bible chronologically, and in so doing discover a progressing evolution of and improvement in our understanding of God.

In the Old Testament, we see a violent genocidal God, who destroys all life on the planet with a flood and who sends the Israelites to destroy neighboring people groups. Brian advances the argument that the OT books were written by a people whose understanding of God was primitive, and so their writings reflect this primitive understanding (again, not a new idea). And as we move further along in the library time line, we see humanity's understanding of God improving. By the time we get to Jesus in the Gospels, much of the old understanding of God is turned on its head (love your enemies instead of hating them, etc.). Brian suggests that this is not God changing, but our knowledge of him changing, his revelation of himself to us expanding.

In the book, Brian plots a line through a scatter diagram that shows a trajectory of our understanding of God, beginning in the early OT books and moving forward through the NT. The line travels upward, into higher and higher understanding. Then Brian adds points to the diagram to represent OT prophecy about the future, placing them higher still on the trajectory line. Finally, he places Jesus at the top of the chart, as the point through which the line finally travels at its highest position. In doing this, he attempts to give Jesus the highest place, to make Jesus, and understanding Jesus, the bearing marker which should guide our quest for a new kind of Christianity.

But I have a problem with this.

First, what Jesus are we talking about here? For this to work, the Jesus at the top of the trajectory has to be the actual Jesus. It can't be the Jesus that was revealed to us in the Gospels. That Jesus was made known to us through primitive peoples nearly two thousand years ago. Just as the God revealed in the OT was an incomplete and somewhat inaccurate picture, to be improved upon in later writings (according to the theory here), so too must the Jesus of the Gospels be somewhat incomplete and inaccurate. I don't understand the basis for Brian's assumption that the Gospels of 2000 years ago are somehow the complete revelation of Jesus. Such an assumption, while I tend to agree with it, does seem to fly in the face of the rest of his proposition.

So where do we turn to find newer and more accurate revelations of the true Jesus? People have proposed a lot of options for this. Islam claims to be a cleansing or repairing of the corrupted understanding of God we find in the scriptures. It came roughly 600 years after the Gospels were written. Could Islam be an evolved and improved understanding of God? Mormonism also makes the claim of a Latter Day revelation of Jesus. Are we to accept these as possibilities? If not, to what or whom do we then turn to find the Jesus that Brian places at the top of his trajectory? According to Brian, we cannot turn to the NT letters for this, as he makes clear that the letters should be seen as pointing back to the Jesus of the Gospels. To what then? To Jesus himself?? How???

The only way this makes sense to me is if the Jesus at the top of the trajectory line is the real Jesus, not the picture of Jesus painted in the Gospels. If God is revealing this Jesus to us even now, as Brian says, "even as we read these words", how do we determine the validity of these personal experiences? Brian seems to claim that we do this by looking backward along the trajectory line and see if it follows the correct course. Sounds good. But I think Islam and Mormonism then have a legitimate claim to being accurate revelations of God. Perhaps they are? Is this what Brian is saying? So far he has not made that explicit yet.

But there are a couple upcoming sections that may further address these issues, specifically, "Who is Jesus and why is he important?" and "How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?" More good reading ahead!

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Adult Ministry
Our Place Christian Church
Sent via BlackBerry

6 comments:

debgraafsma said...

Ken -- Thank you for your insights and for your heart. God is on the move! Blessings, Debbye
debgraafsma.blogspot.com

Bob Pearson said...

Yes the question of how we define what is real/truth is the key to this transition time. Tickle in her book asks what is the new basis for authority in this Emergence. I think somehow it is a community process of spiritual discernment. Listening to the Spirit of God in community not as individuals or interpreted by small groups o individuals. Having all voices and insights in the dialog is now not only important but may be the only way forward. God exists in the plurality not in the specific instantiation. We need more radical diversity in unity not just more division.

So how is this done. By staying open to all perspectives and then moving forward in our deep unity and not just in the lowest common denominator.

We need new experiments in radical community, interdenominational and even interfaith dialog, groups discernment processes, universal acceptance and love of the other and the stranger, etc...

Ken said...

I agree with that idea. When I heard Phyllis speak at the Emergence gathering in NM (haven't read her book yet) she mentioned that the authority question is always re-evaluated during times of emergence. I remember thinking at the time that community will most likely be the new authority that emerges.

But the future I see for this is one of even greater splintering and division among followers of Jesus than we have now, unless there is a corresponding shift in our ability and willingness to respect the authority of communities other than our own...

I find an interesting relationship between authority and unity. It could be said that a shared authority is a prerequisite for unity. If unity is to be held as a high ideal, define it however you like, it requires a shared authority to create and sustain it.

Or, perhaps attempting to have unity has been the problem all along?

Paul said...

I gotta admit that the more I read of reviews of this book, the more I have no desire to read it. Sorry about that, Ken! It sounds like he has some points, but others seems to be really misguided - like his Greco-Roman narrative theory.

His whole argument for the book starts from this point and this reviewer seems to hack up Brian's book pretty good.

http://mikewittmer.wordpress.com/2010/02/11/brian-mclaren-a-new-kind-of-christianity-interlude/

Ken said...

What was that? What did I hear? Was that the sound of a mind closing? :-)

Well, if you're not going to read the book, at least read Brian's blog for his responses to the critics. Here's one post:

http://www.brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/reviews-a-new-kind-of-christiani-8.html

Paul said...

Not totally close-minded - just only to some things. If it makes you feel any better, I don't read books by Robert Schuler or Kenneth Copeland either. :)

Re: your post, I appreciate what Brian is trying to say and from what he says there, it sounds good. But, from the other things I have seen, I will have to agree with one commentator who said it looks like Brian is trying to have his cake and eat it too.