Review of McLaren’s Newest Books: Part 3 of 3

This is the final installment in a 3 part series reviewing two of Brian McLaren’s books which I think are best read in tandem: A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That are Transforming the Faith(not to be confused with the similarly titled New Kind of CHRISTIAN) and Naked Spirituality: Life With God in 12 Simple Words. I confess that my reviews pretty much ignore his major project in both books – not that they aren’t valuable or worth considering, but I found his subplot to be much more intriguing.

For many of us engaging in the work of missional church planting there is a temptation to view those who “don’t get it” as inferior. It becomes accepted (in some circles) to sit around mocking Christians who want nothing more than to attend a worship gathering and “be fed.” I confess that I’ve been guilty of this. What precisely does this achieve?

Again, it is well and good to challenge one another, but perhaps we must recognize that seasons progress as they progress and it doesn’t do any good to mock summer for being hot. Unless you’re Texas, you don’t get to skip seasons…and when we try to skip over the process of struggle we may find ourselves in an unnatural season of winter.

The autumn season of perplexity may sometimes be the catalyst for some to embark on the task of church planting. When that is the case, we may be tempted to skip the winter of meditation, reflection and beholding and instead move right into a new spring of simplicity. This is understandable. When we make a life-changing decision during a period of deep perplexity we can be so relieved to find something new that we rush forward with little or no preparation.

This may help explain why some groups define themselves by what they’re against rather than what they’re for. We get frustrated with our experience and without pausing to reflect on what we’re being called TO, we simply react out of what we’re running FROM.

This is like trees that begin to bloom and bud in an unseasonably warm January. The hard freeze is still coming and when it does it can kill them. In this case, the natural progression of winter which should send plants into a dormant state actually serves to destroy the tree. Instead of natural season of rest it becomes an unnatural harbinger of death. Naked Spirituality is helpful in reminding us that following seasons of perplexity we need a season of beholding before moving forward.

I suspect that we could trace the cycle of McLaren’s metaphorical seasons through our progression through each of the quests he spoke of in A New Kind of Christianity. As we move from the quest for survival to security or from individuality to honesty there is likely going to be a move from simplicity to complexity to perplexity because it is precisely that season of perplexity to propels us further. The danger of skipping over the winter of beholding, in this macro view, remains a major threat. Before moving forward, we need time to reflect, process, heal…time to “be still and know.”

As we progress from season to season we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater or set about reinventing the wheel. Its important to bring the lessons we learned previously with us into the new. It seems to me that there are two parallel temptations at this point.

On the one hand we may reject everything that had to do with the previous system – like organic church planters recognizing the previous short-comings of rigid, bottle-necking structures and then mistakenly labeling structure itself as the problem.

The other danger is that as we bring these things along, we must allow them to be replanted in the new season, in ways that are appropriate to the time in which we now dwell. If not, we will simply add new things to the old list of things and bring on a whole new season of perplexity and despair. We find ourselves trying to plant seeds, till the ground, pull the weeds and harvest the fruit all simultaneously (I’m afraid that I’m dangerously close to obliterating this metaphor…I think I have a spiritual gift for doing that).

An example of this mistake can be seen in congregations that grab the latest trend and plug it uncritically into their church culture. This can be true for things like the Purpose-Driven Life program as well as missional church “stuff.” Particularly for something like a missional mindset, it simply won’t work to treat it as something we work into our schedule or add on top of all the other programs. Missional represents a new paradigm or a new season, to borrow McLaren’s metaphor. As such we must take time to consider what lessons and practices from the previous season need to be contextually replanted and which ones will no longer function well in the new.

All in all, I think Naked Spirituality is one of McLaren’s better books, particularly if read in tandem with or following New Kind of Christianity. I didn’t even cover the 12 words or spiritual practices that McLaren desribes for each of the seasons of faith – but I found them to be appropriate and useful for both individuals and communities.

These two books are not necessarily ones you just want to give to everyone to read on their own. They aren’t as quick and easy to read as some of his other works. However, I think that the contents of these two works could be very beneficial for a community to process through together, even in (or perhaps especially in) contexts where there is a wide diversity of familiarity and experience in the Christian faith.


Posted on April 26, 2011, in book review, brian mclaren, naked spirituality, new kind of christianity. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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