Identity. Fundamental to us all. Yet so seldom explored. What does it mean to be a Christian in the 21st century?
The past few months I’ve been in a sort of identity crisis. My Christian upbringing has been so fundamental to my worldview that I’ve rarely taken the time to look at my life from an outside perspective. Being somewhat at a cross roads I decided to ask a new friend for advice. I’ve emailed Brian McLaren in the past, and, to my pleasant surprise, he has been remarkably available to his readers. I figured he might have some insights since his previous works were drops of cool water my dry and dusty soul. And he did. It just happens to be his new book, which he graciously extended a review copy.
Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Muhammad Cross the Road? is McLaren’s latest project to foster understanding between the major religious traditions. His opening chapters explain his goal to not merely foster dialog but to offer a new paradigm of Christian relationships defined by love and mutual respect for all people. McLaren suggests a third way of Christian identity between the strong, hostile and weak, inclusive identities popularly pitted as rival worldviews. His middle way is a strong, benevolent identity that does not compromise on its Christian thought but is rooted in compassion and respect for all humanity.
Such a strong, benevolent Christian faith creates doctrinal, liturgical and missional challenges. Being a realist, Brian anticipates these. Most of the book tackles these three in sequence. Since this the meat of the content, I won’t spoil it for you, but I must state this is where Brian is most exceptional and most controversial. A strong, benevolent identity is not too offensive to most, but the three challenges afford him the opportunity to delve into major pitfalls most branches of Christianity have plummeted into. Questions of violence, salvation, church worship, and evangelism have been treated sensitively and directly. Brian never hedges or backs down from the most sensitive points of Christian life. In his latest work, he exposes several philosophical, theological and practical areas of spiritual pride and elitism that have kept Christians from entering into the benevolence Christian living ultimately must embody. As with his previous books, Brian initiates a conversation that must evolve into viable community choices to engage one another in order to avoid a much more terrifying future of religious violence and reciprocal animosity.
Brian has recently released a series of excerpts from the book and a video trailer from Jericho’s site. The book will be available at all major retailers on September 11, 2012. In the midst of remembering the 9/11 victims, I strongly recommend getting this book, engaging people from all faith communities and envisioning with Brian a world in which Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus, etc. can extend respect and compassion to all humankind.
Many thanks to Brian for his wisdom and direction in the path of Emergence, to Shanon Stowe for the review copy, and to Wendy Grisham for spearheading Jericho. May Godspeed your collective labors.