A New Kind of Christianity – The God Question

Mclaren’s third chapter marked the first time I had a genuine disagreement with his questions. Mclaren’s attempts to argue that human beings were not able to handle God falls short (he actually uses an analogy where he refers to the ancients as 2nd graders).

What if people who live in the second-grade world of polytheism need to learn about one God as superior to others before they can handle the idea of one God as uniquely real?

I think that Mclaren is not speaking about ancient in specific but people in general. Unfortunately, that is not very clear in the book. If you want to say that people have to journey through the revelation of Jesus Christ, I can agree with you. But I think McLaren is saying something else – something that troubles me, although I cannot put my finger on exactly what it is.

This is the problem with reading McLaren. He asks great questions; and he offers answers that sound good but the more you read and re-read his answers, you get the sense that they are slightly off, slightly tilted away.

Here’s an example. Mclaren takes us on a hypothetical trip through time to the year 3013 to demonstrate how God reveals himself as we are ready. The illustration works, but if you read it carefully, you see that McLaren has tipped his hand and shown an underlying agenda to his seemingly rhetorical journey. He mingles his cultural ideals with his ideas of spirituality.  Here is what he writes about these future Christians he encounters:

They have continued to grow in the knowledge and ways of the Lord…Three social differeneces strike us immediately…they no longer fight wars…they live more ecologically sustainable live as vegetarians…they long ago outgrew the use of fossil fuels.

Do you see it? The ‘future’ Christians have adopted the supposedly enlightened values of McLaren’s world. They have progressed in their understanding of God and have become…well, Al Gore.

I am certain Mclaren did not intentionally project this stereotype but it illustrates how one’s matrix dictates his understanding. He still suffers from modernist’s problem of believing his views are superior to the ‘primitives’ who came before. Mclaren’s matrix speaks into his word although he does not do it intentionally.

Being perfectly honest, I think the subtle condescension of this section of the chapter disturbed me so much that I had difficulty sticking with him on the rest of his discussion.

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4 thoughts on “A New Kind of Christianity – The God Question

  1. Great thoughts on this question, Erik. I see your point and it is one I heard when discussing this idea with others (the whole condescending thing) but I do not believe it is a necessary conclusion. If one looks back on their life (or another’s) and notices an evolution, does that immediately and automatically render such an observation condescending in nature? Do we look on our childhood, or even our child’s developmental phases as inherently primitive and look on them as less advanced in condescending fashion? I do not think you are necessarily saying this, but others have implied this in their response rather clearly. Granted, there can be a general tendency to do so, but the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premise.

    I couldn’t agree more with your observation of McLaren’s envisioned future of evolved Christianity in 3013. You point it out with hilarity! I think his general idea is good, especially when considered in our context in looking back on the history of the church.

    Good stuff, brother!

    • Hey Ian, thanks for stopping by. I don’t think our individual development as an adult is analogous to the development of human culture. McLaren’s assumption is modernist – that previous generations were ‘primitive’ or as he puts it ‘second-grade’. I disagree. I don’t believe our advancements are the result of our superiority to previous generations. The only gauge that allows us to make such an assumption would be technological advancement – and we all know that technology does not make us better. In fact, I find that it tends to dehumanize us.

  2. Agreed. Perhaps my illustration is not an identical correlation (is any analogy able to do this?), but I believe it can serve somewhat of a purpose. If McLaren is communicating that the ancients were primitive in a demeaning sense, then I’m with you – that is the height of myopia and arrogance. I’m not sure about the precise point he makes – I understood it as both a general development on a personal and societal scale.

  3. And that may very well be his intention, but I think the way he communicated it was condescending toward those who came before – still a reflection of the modernity he is so sure he has left behind.

    My personal view of postmodernity is that it is not a replacement of modernity but simply the next evolution of it. I prefer the idea of a return to the Ancient – which is different from being postmodern and trying to create an ancient-modernity.

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