Friday, March 05, 2010
Brian McLaren Clarifies Some Questions About ANKoC: Part II
As I've mentioned, Brian McLaren has graciously offered to answer some of the questions I have for him about his latest book, A New Kind of Christianity. I posted Part I here yesterday. (Update: here is Part III as well.)

Here is Part II. I asked:

2) Quite a few critics (both conservatives and liberals in fact) have accused you of simply rehashing classic liberal theology. I'm curious as to how well-read you are in the past century or so of liberal theology and whether you think your "new kind of Christianity" really is "new", or whether it has significant parallels in the liberal tradition? Are you in fact simply recapitulating what has already been said by others (Rauschenbusch? Harnack? Bultmann? Gutierrez? Borg?), or are you building on or critiquing them in any way?

Again, this feels to me like people are thinking more dualistically than narratively, in those stereotypical neoplatonic terms (admitting all the complexities we both know lie behind that term). Are there really two eternal and unchanging categories of theology, one liberal and the other conservative, one on the side of the angels and the other on the side of the demons? Isn't it more true to say that there's a story going on, and that within that story arguments arise, and that good and smart people see some truth in both main sides in the argument and throw their energies there, even though they see weaknesses in their side and strengths in the other side? I mean, can't we admire both Erasmus and Luther, for example, or both Desmond Tutu - who's pretty "liberal" in conventional terms - and Billy Graham, who is himself a lot more liberal than say Pat Robertson? And isn't it more true to say that among the broad community of liberals, there are statements and counterstatements, advances and reversals, reversals and then advances, trackbacks and circlings and repentances and rediscoveries? Isn't the same thing going on among conservatives? And doesn't each grow in conversation not only among themselves but even with their antagonist?

Your question itself acknowledges that this kind of binary thinking is terribly unhelpful. For example, Bultmann and Gutierrez strike me as radically different thinkers. I love what I read of Gutierrez but I take a completely different tack than Bultmann, who I read back in college. I've never read Harnack, but based on a little reading I just did about him, it sounds like I'm stumbling into territory he pioneered regarding the shift from Hebraic to Greek thinking. I'm more open to miracle and mysticism than he was, and I would never reject the Gospel of John as he did simply because it's less "historical" in the modernist sense. As you know, I deal in depth with several passages from the fourth gospel in the book. As for Rauschenbusch, I loved Christianity and the Social Crisis. When I read Tom Wright and Marcus Borg's book on Jesus, I was so glad to be able to listen to both of them, and felt each was stronger than the other at some points, and would hate to have to become the friend of one and the enemy of the other - especially because the two of them were modeling friendship where they disagreed.

By the way, there's been a lot of discussion regarding "theology after google," and it's very relevant to this discussion. Unitarians are reading Rob Bell and Don Miller. And Southern Baptists are reading Walter Brueggemann and Brian McLaren (not to equate the two!). So the old days of segregation and apartheid between liberals and conservatives are over. The gatekeepers will keep guarding their front gates, but the back fence is down.

But let me say it very bluntly: if by liberal, someone means naturalistic, rejecting the possibility of the mystical or miraculous, denying the authority of the Scriptures, denying the resurrection, blah, blah, blah - I'm not a liberal. If by liberal, someone means free to think, free to ask questions, free to seek truth and God, then I would hope all of us could be liberals. If by conservative, someone means unwilling to think or ask questions because one already has the truth nailed down in a pristine form, then I'm not a conservative. But if a conservative is someone who wants to learn from the past, someone who loves the Scriptures and respects the creeds and most importantly loves Jesus, then I would hope everyone could be conservative. But this is where I think "a new kind of Christianity" comes into play, because a lot of us don't want to have to stay in the old dualism.

Frank Schaeffer recently said something to the effect that the one sin that won't be forgiven by some religious folks is the failure to hate their enemies. I worry sometimes that this kind of thinking sneaks into our hearts in the liberal-conservative debates, and I don't think it's Christlike.

Sorry to ramble on, but that's my honest response to the assumptions behind your question. It's so funny that some conservatives want to paint me as a liberal, because I get exactly the response from many liberals that you describe in your review, Mike. Sort of a condescension, like, "You? Liberal? You're only a slightly less ignorant and superstitious conservative!"

By the way, neither category among Protestants - conservative or liberal - cuts any mustard with our brothers and sisters who begin the conversation with the issue of apostolic succession! Both sides are in the wrong boat from the start, arguing about which is the better wing of the false and schismatic church.

Again, thanks Brian!
You can find Part I here and I'll be posting Part III tomorrow.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 1:03 PM | Permalink |


At 3/05/2010 02:29:00 PM, Anonymous Chad Holtz

Thanks, Brian, for this response.

Here at Duke Div where I am in seminary I surprised to find that the "conservative vs. liberal" conversation isn't even on the table anymore. Circles I run in here don't think in these dualist categories (or at least are trying hard not to). I've been impressed with that and have been hoping that sort of ethos gathers steam. Hopefully your book and responses like this will move us further towards that.

as a side note, I would just say that contrary to popular opinion (you hint at this in your book and Theology after Google along with Tony Jones certainly say it) there are SOME seminaries that do not teach a constitutional view of the Bible nor are they caught up in this 6 line narrative. And many are very much committed to being in service to the Church rather than the Academy. At least my experience at Duke has been such.



At 3/05/2010 04:24:00 PM, Anonymous Rich Vincent

Absolutely love the comment about liberalism and conservatism. I find myself in the same position - too liberal for some, too conservative for others. Brian's comments hit the nail on the head and with him I completely concur. God bless you Brian!


At 3/05/2010 07:33:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

I have experienced much the same thing here at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Chad. There is a lot of diversity among the students, not strictly liberal or conservative, though some of each (for instance I have classmates who are Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God, United Methodists, Catholics, and even Unitarian/Universalists, right along with all the mainline Presbyterians). And like Duke, the faculty do not teach a constitutional view of the Bible, nor do they teach the 6-line narrative. Places like this do give me hope.