A New Kind of Christianity
You talk about questions being more important than beliefs in your new book. Why do you say that? What does faith mean to you?
If my beliefs are static, then in a sense I will never apprehend more of the truth than I do now. But if my beliefs are continually challenged by questions, then my religion can be more than a list of static beliefs: it can be a life of faith, a life of discovery and exploration. This idea of ongoing, lifelong growth is inherent in the word "disciple"; as I understand it, a disciple isn't a know-it-all -- he or she is a learner. And questions fuel the blessed unrest that keeps us learning, growing, moving forward.
One of the most radical propositions in your new book is the shift in our starting point for approaching the Bible. You challenge the traditional narrative lens -- the "Story" of the Bible as being primarily the Garden of Eden, the Fall, Salvation, and Heaven or Hell -- as not only be misguided, but as much too small of a story for what the Bible really offers. What are we missing by reading the Bible with the first narrative lens?
To put it bluntly, the earth! The old narrative invites us to pass through this world as quickly as possible, en route to heaven. This world is more like a one-night stand in a Motel 6 than our home, so we don't worry about making the beds or maintaining the plumbing or getting to know our neighbors. But the narrative I'm proposing in the book still holds the hope of life with God beyond this life, but it focuses our attention on this world, which is truly important because it is God's beloved creation to which God has promised to be faithful. In my understanding, to be a Christian is to join God in God's saving love for all creation.
Scot McKnight reviewed your book recently in Christianity Today. He wrote, "Brian's new kind of Christianity is quite old. And the problem is that it's not old enough." Your New Christianity may be new for you, he says, but it is actually a rehash of 19th-century liberal theology. How do you understand McKnight's critique, and do you think it's fair or accurate?
Well, I like Scot very much, and I think he's light years ahead of many evangelicals in his openness to fresh perspectives. But I would express a couple of things differently than Scot did in the review. First, I wouldn't want to promote that widespread evangelical viewpoint that sees nothing or next to nothing of value in 19th- or 20th-century liberal theology. The old narrative that liberal is bad and conservative is good has become toxic, addictive, and harmful to both sides, in my opinion.
I believe that liberal theology had some real strengths along with its weaknesses, which is what I'd also say about 20th-century evangelicalism, too. (And it's what I'd say about my own life too, for that matter!) So I would hope I have good things in common with liberal theology, whether in its 19th-, 20th-, or 21st-century forms --such as a less reactive attitude toward scientific discoveries than their conservative counterparts often have had, or a deep commitment to work against systemic injustice to non-whites and women and gay people. Similarly, I would hope to have many good things in common with 20th-century conservative evangelical theology, and many good things in common with Pentecostal theology, and many good things in common with medieval Catholic theology, and so on. I don't want to carry on the black-and-white thinking about liberals that conservatives often promote, or the opposite.
Deborah Arca joined the Patheos team in 2009, after more than ten years of managing programs for the Program in Christian Spirituality at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. Deborah has also been a youth minister, a director of music/theatre programs for children, and a music minister.