Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Reflections on Brian McClaren & the emerging church

Brian McClaren, an American pastor and theologian, has come to prominence over the last few years, with books like 'A New Kind of Christian' and 'A Generous Orthodoxy' and has been behind the rise of the emerging church in recent years.

I'm reading 'A New Kind of Christian' at the moment, and undoubtedly over the coming weeks there will be more blogs on Brian McClaren. But reading online some of the things he's said and written, I wanted to offer an initial response.

McClaren wants to see a church that is constantly changing and adapting to the post-modern culture and one which exists without needing a objective truth in which to believe.

But how does that work?

We as Christians believe in the God of the Bible. We recognise he is real, true and that He sent Jesus to die for our sin. We acknowledge the power and authority of the Holy Spirit at work in the world.

If we don't have that truth in us at even a basic level, then we don't have a faith.

There needs to be some sort of basic truths about God at some level for us to even find out about Him. If we feel His presence without having ever read the Bible, then that truth exists in our experience. We cannot deny that experience, it is true.

If we experience God through the Bible, then we acknowledge that is true.

Rob Bell talks in his book 'Velvet Elvis' about springs, and that there are some fundamental things which act as springs, but that everything else is open to interpretation. He compares it to bricks, which are solid and immovable, and where taking one out ruins the whole wall. He's talking about fundamentalists who say there is only one way to interpret the Bible. He calls it 'brickianity'.

To him, the Bible is a spring. There is no one single meaning or interpretation, but lots and they change and adapt over time as the culture we live in changes and the circumstances and lifestyle we are born into changes. So then we face different circumstances and different challenges as a Christian. The interpretation is different.

This is a better explanation I think. They are saying very similar things, but very different as well. McClaren denies the need for fundamental truth, Bell says that it is merely a spring to much more which we don't know about and that we can explore.

Brian McClaren also is quoted as saying the following "It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish contexts …"

Now I don't want to take this out of context.

There are two things McClaren could mean when he says this.

If McClaren is saying that we want people to believe in Jesus and yet remain Buddhist, Hindu or Jewish, then he's contradicting what Jesus said about "No one comes to the Father except through me" and also what Jesus said about people not being able to serve two masters.

If you are of one religion, then you can't take bits of another as an add-on. If you follow Jesus, you don't follow any other religious leader or teaching.

Jesus certainly didn't want that.

That's not being dogmatic or inflexible, but there is no interpreation of scripture which says to me that following Jesus yet still following another god is okay. That makes no sense to me, and if that is what McClaren is really saying then I just can't agree with it.

If however, as I suspect, he is saying that Christianity needs to be different for each culture then he may have a point. The way we live out our faith will be different wherever we are born, whatever culture we come from, whatever tradition we are in, whatever social or economic class we're in and whatever our circumstances, our experience of Jesus and the way we live out our faith practically is going to be different wherever we are.

Someone living on the streets of India will live out their faith very differently from a middle-upper class westerner. Their entire lives are different, therefore while they may believe the same basic truths then the way they interpret them and put them into practice will be very different.

Now that idea I can get on board with.

Judging by these two points, I think that Brian McClaren has some good ideas at a very basic level, but some of the detail and way he interprets that is a little different, maybe a bit too liberal, for my own liking.

I await with interest to see what other things he has to say, and of course as I read more of his work and understand it, then I will be able to form real opinions about his work.

Whatever my opinions on Brian McClaren though, the emerging church has many branches to it and is merely a conversation, a discussion about how to do Christianity and church today. How to take the best of the old and make it into the new. How to take the best of the church today and bring it together and build a church and a faith for today and the future.

Rob Bell is certainly the man who has captured my perspective on it the most clearly of anyone, and my own pastor Jason Clark as well.

I may not totally agree with Brian McClaren but I like what he's trying to do.

We need to be exploring what church and Christianity looks like today, what's right with church, what's wrong with church and what we can do about it.

Some people say the emerging church is a heresy.

The interesting thing is that if they went back 400 years and said what they believed now, some of what they hold as fundamental now would be called heresy.

The simple truth is that as culture and society changes, the way we do life changes and the way we practically live out our faith changes. It also is different depending on the culture and society we live in.

It doesn't mean the basic truths change. It merely means the way we live them out does.