"Naked Spirituality" and "The Other Jesus": A Conversation between Brian McLaren and Greg Garrett

But it also is motivated by my experience these last several years as a writer, speaker, activist, and networker working in this marginal and liminal zone people call "emergence." I've noticed a struggle in a lot of people's lives. They developed a spiritual life in a certain theological context—a fundamentalist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Calvinist, or institutional context, for example—and now that context is disintegrating for them. They've outgrown fundamentalism or questioned Calvinism or lost confidence in religious institutions. As a result, their spiritual lives are fragmenting and falling apart. Once they lose a certain framework for thinking and talking about God, they begin to lose God—as if the two were the same thing.

I discovered through my own spiritual struggles that the two aren't the same. There's difference between having confidence in God and having confidence in my theories about God. That kind of naked, direct confidence in and connection with God is what I'm trying to foster and encourage in Naked Spirituality.

Which brings me to my question for you, Greg. I just finished The Other Jesus and I'm so glad you've written it. I was struck by many things, starting with the book's simplicity and accessibility—together with its depth. "Simplicity with depth," I guess you could call it. It seems to me that there are lots of "complexity with depth" books and "simplicity without depth" books, but not enough like yours that combine simplicity and depth.

I had the feeling that this book was addressed to people who may have come from backgrounds like ours—conservative Evangelical or fundamentalist—whose inherited faith subsequently fell apart, and are now trying to put the pieces back together. First, am I right in describing your intended audience, and second, why do you think "simplicity with depth" is so important in helping people rebuild their faith after a collapse? And why is it so rare?

Greg: Brian, I love how you fore-grounded the problem when people's assumptions about God are challenged. Sometimes their boxes break, and instead of realizing it's their box that's broken, it's somehow God who is broken—no longer trustworthy, no longer faithful. This certainly describes my own long struggle for a usable faith, and why I think you're right to note that at least one of the audiences for this book is people like us who came from conservative Christian backgrounds that proved ultimately to be untenable.

My own failure of faith was to imagine that God was broken instead of one way of understanding God. And my problem was that—except for saints like Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa who somehow seemed to be off the charts—I didn't have another usable model for how to be Christian. That's why reading your A New Kind of Christian in manuscript all those years ago was liberating for me. You really were proposing—for me and others—a new way of being a disciple that didn't involve assent to beliefs I couldn't affirm, based on what I knew of God.

Your book, the lives of pastor friends like Chris and John Ballenger, and the faith community that became my home in Austin showed me that God was still in the business of love and rescue. Returning to faith in a different part of the Christian world has allowed me to truly believe in and give myself over to that God. This confidence in God, as you describe it, has saved my life and made it a life worth living. So I wanted to share what I've discovered with people within the tradition seeking something different, and with those outside the tradition who admire Jesus but don't get mainstream American piety and practice. And I thought that the book had to communicate clearly, tell good stories, and model a loving critical engagement with faith and practice if it was going to invite people into digging deeper.

Simplicity with depth can help shape a healthy faith and practice. Simplicity without depth is what too many people use to build their conceptions of God and their life with God. That's the theology I was given and accepted uncritically as a child, and mine broke into a million pieces.

Since we're called to bring every part of ourselves to our love of God—that whole "loving with heart and soul and body and mind" thing—everyone can and should do theology. Sometimes, though, as you note in Naked Spirituality, there's no real impetus to, especially when everything feels like it's going well. God is near, the sun is shining, what's to figure out? I wonder if you might describe the four seasons of the spiritual life you explore, and perhaps talk about how you see—and have experienced—these practices leading to a deepening of confidence in God like you mentioned above.

Brian: Sure, I'd love to, but before I do, I want to highlight that distinction you just made—between the whole idea of God being broken and my or our group's current idea of God being broken, or even more starkly put, between God being broken and our concept of God being broken. As I think about that, with this being Lent, I couldn't help but think of what Christ crucified evokes: brokenness. We might say that as Jesus dies, a whole herd of ideas about God are dying with him, and that void will create the possibility of a new vision of God rising.

4/1/2011 4:00:00 AM
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