Important Pieces of an Important Puzzle
In order to consider the possibility of reshaping faith identity by way of benevolence toward other religions, McLaren has an ambitious agenda that involves theology and praxis, through which he asks Christians "to critically revisit various doctrines" (100), and "to rediscover, re-envision, and reformulate them in a post-imperial, postcolonial, post-Christendom way" (101). This involves a process of critical historical reflection on Christianity as it relates to imperialism and colonialism and how this has contributed to our hostile identity, as well as a possible reformulation of doctrine, liturgy, and missions to reflect our multi-faith, post-Christendom environment.
Some of the major helpful elements in McLaren's proposal include a discussion of Christological hermeneutics of the Bible, pneumatological considerations that contribute to a robust trinitarian framework, liturgical practices such as the emphasis on Resurrection as well as cross and atonement, and friendship and hospitality practices as they relate to missions and the Kingdom or Commonwealth of God. There are areas where ongoing conversation and possible critique presents itself, with one major area being the idea of competitive superiority and religious supremacy. In this area I find myself in agreement and also disagreement with McLaren, and I hope for the opportunity to dialogue with him and other Evangelicals on this and other topics in the book. For further discussion see my more extensive review on this volume (precluded by space limitations in this dual review) at The Englewood Review of Books.
Turning my attention to Eboo Patel's volume, Sacred Ground, the author is well known within the interfaith movement as a popular speaker as well as founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC). His desire is to see Americans not "simply coexist in a lukewarm tolerance, but rather actively cooperate and mutually thrive" (xiii) with their religious differences. The book is devoted to Patel's ideas about how we might realize this "promise of American pluralism" (xxv).
Patel begins his volume with a consideration of how American attitudes changed in regards to Islam and religious pluralism after 9/11. He discusses the plans for the construction of the Cordoba House, a community center in New York that conservatives and those on the Religious Right would succeed in framing as the "Ground Zero mosque," an alleged symbol of victory by Islam over America that would encroach upon the sacred space where the Twin Towers stood. This narrative has continued to develop, facilitated by those on the Right, from political leaders like Newt Gingrich (whose troubling shift on this issue for political expediency is discussed in the book), to religious leaders including Evangelicals.
Patel discusses past anti-Catholicism as a parallel to present anti-Islam (which can also be seen in anti-Mormonism), but although this presents a disturbing challenge, Patel sees hope. He notes that "when Evangelicals change, America changes" (56), and he mentions the positive work of certain Evangelicals across the spectrum presenting a different way forward, including Bob Roberts of Northwood Church, Gabe Lyons of Q, and Jim Wallis of Sojourners.
John W. Morehead is the Custodian of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, the Director of the Western Institute for Intercultural Studies, and has been involved in interreligious dialogue for many years in the contexts of Islam, Mormonism, and Paganism. He is editor of Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue, by Philip Johnson and Gus diZerega.