In his 19th book, the prophetic evangelical author Brian McLaren is publishing his first interfaith book. It’s timed to appear on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that opened and still define this turbulent new century.
As you will read in our interview with McLaren later this week, the best-selling writer argues that this new book is far from the typical appeal for interfaith understanding that other writers are producing these days. While many of those books are noble, he has a different purpose in Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World. While smiling over the old joke in the main title—don’t miss that the book’s real focus lies in the sub-title about “Christian Identity.” This book is a passionate appeal to enrich Christian appreciation of cross-cultural relationships by doing some thorough house cleaning within Christianity itself. In this book, Brian is primarily writing to the Christians who comprise a majority of the American population.
FROM OUR INTERVIEW WITH BRIAN (coming later this week in ReadTheSpirit): Brian says, in answer to a question in the interview …
One of the biggest insights that came to me, as I was researching this book, is the realization that it’s not our differences that are keeping us apart. What’s keeping us apart is something we actually have in common: The way we often try to build our own identity through hostility. Leaders build loyalty among “us” by building hostility toward “them.” It won’t work to simply rush off into interfaith dialogue until we deal with some of the deep work within our own identity. We won’t get far in our relationships with others until we deal with some of the often hidden ways we have defined ourselves through our hostility.
Perhaps we can see this problem more easily in the political campaign going on right now. If you took away hostility toward Democrats, I’m not sure how much substance is left in the Republican Party. And, if you took away hostility toward Republicans, I don’t know how much substance there is in the Democratic Party. The same problem exists in our religious communities.
Read the entire interview with Brian McLaren, later this week.
A Return to Brian McLaren’s ‘Generous Orthodoxy’
Reviewing Brian McLaren’s new book as Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I was struck immediately by the return this book represents to themes that he raised in his 2004 cross-over book: A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional, evangelical, post-Protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, incarnational, depressed-yet-hopeful, emergent, unfinished Christian.
In addition to setting a record for longest sub-title on the cover of a spiritual book, Brian staked out the term “Generous” for what he also has described since 2004 as “harmony,” “unity” and “civility.” McLaren urges people to sit down together across a table, to eat together and to begin forming a good-spirited community—rather than flashing doctrinal swords. Such words of wisdom echo what we are hearing from bright young Christian writers like Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, these days.
It was McLaren’s “Generous” book that turned heads nationally among non-evangelicals. As a religion newswriter, at that time based at the Detroit Free Press, “Generous” was the first Brian McLaren book that I actually read cover to cover. It was the first McLaren book that I found my newspaper readers asking me about and telling me that they were reading themselves. McLaren was deliberately making a provocative play on words in selecting “Generous” as his mantra. Evangelicals always have set the high mark among Christians for giving money and sweat equity to missions—they always excel (and even boast) about that kind of “generosity.” But, Brian was calling for us to focus on a distinctly different meaning of that word. He also was chiding his fellow evangelicals to become truly generous.
In continuing to use the term “generous,” McLaren is not talking about drumming up dollars for the collection plate. He’s talking about what other writers today are begining to call “kindness” and “hospitality.” In his new book, he passionately describes a great “Reformulation” he sees possibly unfolding within Christianity—neither a rejection of orthodoxy nor a rejection of the Protestant Reformation—but a rethinking and a renewed appreciation of what core Christian beliefs truly mean in light of God’s diverse world.
McLaren: ‘Could doctrines become healing teachings?’
McLaren writes in the new book: Could it be that our core doctrines are even more wonderful and challenging than we previously imagined, asking us not simply to assent to them in the presence of our fellow assenters, but to practice them in relationships with those who don’t hold them? Could our core doctrines in this way become “healing teachings” intended to diagnose and heal our distorted and hostile identities—restoring a strong and benevolent identity, and unleashing in us a joyful desire to converse and eat with the other? Could our core teachings be shared, not as ultimata (Believe or die!) but as gifts (Here’s how we see things, and here’s what that does for us— )?
McLaren: ‘We must provide lots of support’
This is not an easy task, McLaren argues in the new book. He writes that, if Christians take his challenge seriously, they must face up to problems in traditional forms of liturgy, preaching and missional outreach. Late in the book he writes: Because the cost of embracing a strong and benevolent Christian identity is so high, we must provide lots of support for those who respond—support through fellowship, support through teaching (knowledge) and training (know-how), support through ritual and symbol, support through guided practice and mentoring. But since we are still young and inexperienced in this new identity, we have a long way to go in learning how to provide this support, and each of us must take whatever little we have learned and pass it on to others, even as we look for others who can pass more on to us.
McLaren: ‘What will we discover in that crossing?’
In the final pages, McLaren writes: So, imagine then, Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed crossing the road to encounter one another. Imagine us following them. What will we discover together in that crossing? Surely, it will be holy and humbling in that sacred space. Surely there will be joy, grace, and peace. Surely justice, truth and love. We will find hospitality there, not hostility, and friendship, not fear, and it will be good—good for our own well-being, good for the poor and forgotten, good for our grandchildren’s grandchildren, and good even for the birds of the air and the flowers in the meadow and the fish out at sea. “This is very good,” God will say. And we will say, “Amen.”
Read the entire interview with Brian McLaren, later this week.
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Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.