A New Kind of Christianity
According to the new Kindle App for Blackberry, I have now read the first 20% of this book. I considered waiting until I finished before posting my thoughts, but then decided I couldn't wait.
I love this book so far. I'm going to try not to gush, but it will be difficult. Although I am only about a fifth of the way through, I find the book is meeting me exactly where I am. The ideas have been written about before. Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt have broken this ground with The New Christians and A Christianity Worth Believing, as have many others. A New Kind of Christianity comes across to me as sort of a "Part III", a conclusion to the trilogy. But I don't mean a conclusion in the same sense as a closing. This book is more like a distillation.
In the book, Brian asks us to consider ten questions. And this is the essence of what I mean when I say distillation. For many years, people have struggled to explain and understand what it means to be an emergent christian, what it means to be in the emergent dialogue, and it has caused a lot of confusion. People want definitions, they want doctrine, they want black and white answers to essential propositions... What Brian has succeeded in doing, at least for me, is to summarize what it is that I'm so uncomfortable with. These are the questions. This is what I am asking, what I am wondering. These are the conversations I am seeking. These are the ten things:
1. What is the overarching story line of the Bible?
2. How should the Bible be understood?
3. Is God violent?
4. Who is Jesus and why is he important?
5. What is the Gospel?
6. What do we do about the church?
7. Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?
8. Can we find a better way of viewing the future?
9. How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?
10. How can we translate our quest into action?
Brian points out early on that he is not proposing "answers" to these questions, but rather "responses" that are designed to encourage further discussion. In describing his approach, he uses the metaphor of a tennis match. His responses are not meant to be smash serves, with lots of topspin, intended to win a point and create a loser... but rather more like soft lobs, easy to return, intended to keep the game going.
And as I am only just getting started with the book, I have yet to really delve into his responses and understand them. I have finished the first two questions, and I found myself saying "yes!" over and over again. This is what I have been thinking, what I have been blogging, what I have been questioning and studying in my own personal journey of faith and belief.
I especially related to his responses in question two... "How should the Bible be understood?" He proposes that much of history has seen the Bible understood and used like a constitution, with theologians and church leaders playing the role of attorneys, quoting the Bible to create legal precedents. But Brian suggests that maybe the Bible ought to be seen more like a community library, a collection of books by a variety of authors, all with unique experiences and points of view. Perhaps the books of the Bible were not meant to be read together as a whole, like a constitution, but read individually, browsed through and gleaned from, like a library?
An interesting thing about this book is Brian's repeated use of the word "we". As someone who self identifies as emergent, I found myself reading the book as if Brian were talking to me, or talking to "us". And I found that satisfying. I was happy to hear him speaking to me and at times for me. But yesterday I was reading a few sections of the book aloud to someone else, and I found myself feeling like the person I was reading to was not part of the "we". I felt like when the book said "we", when I read the word "we", that I was talking about "us" to someone who is "them". That was a strange experience. "We" is an interesting word choice here. Brian is talking to two groups at the same time. He's talking to us, and he's talking for us to them. And depending on which group you are in, you will undoubtedly hear his words differently.
I will likely post more of my thoughts as I get deeper into the book. I have not been this excited about a book since Surprised By Hope. It surely has created a lot of controversy recently (canary fliers!). I would encourage everyone to read it for themselves.