‘Something isn’t working in the way we’re Christianity anymore’ (p 9), and here is McLaren’s attempt to identify both what isn’t working now’ and what is needed to make religious faith relevant, based on ten questions.
The questions probe the nature and authority of the bible: is G-d? Who is Jesus? Can we talk about human sexuality? How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions? McLaren tries to identify a passage out of our conventional paradigm and a passage into new possibilities. He points out the extent to which the church functions in a Greco-Roman fashion; ‘what would we call the biblical story line isn’t the shape of the story of Adam and Abraham; it’s the shape of the Greek cultural narrative that Plato taught’ (p 37).
This Greco-Roman perspective is marked by anxiety (the need to keep on top of things), by vulnerability to paranoia (‘theirs’ and ‘us’), hope for the future (‘they are gone’ and our group is normative’), life is an unending all-out war.
McLaren sketches what pluralism means; there is a way to be a committed follower of Christ that doesn’t require you to be flatly and implacably against other religions’ (p 223); ‘Jesus didn’t come to save us within the terms and limitations of the Graeco-Roman framing story.’
He sketches what we can gain by a faith consciously acknowledging the insights of the Celts, of St Francis, of the Anabaptists, of Wesley, the ongoing human quest that Paul witnesses to (Acts 17). He lists four global emergencies we face (p 253): the prosperity crisis, the equity crisis (income disparity), the security issue (violence), the spirituality crisis (religion’s failure to confront these issues).
A powerful book with emphasis on the history of faith characterized by ‘repentance, rethinking and quest’ (p 259).
Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.