Brian MacLaren’s previous books (A New Kind of Christian, A Generous Orthodoxy, and others) have probed away at prevailing evangelical beliefs and practices. These writings have been long on questions, but short on answers. Now, in A New Kind of Christianity, he has told us more directly, more systematically, where his thinking has taken him.
Of the various reviews on the web, one of the most penetrating is that of Scott McKnight, in Christianity Today. McKnight has been quite sympathetic to emergent thinking, and counts MacLaren as a long-time friend, which makes his critique all the more striking.
McKnight turns MacLaren’s comment back on him: “Sociologists sometimes say that groups can exist without a god, but no group can exist without a devil.” MacLaren’s devil is Western Evangelicalism, which he pursues relentlessly and caricatures frequently.
MacLaren believes that evangelical Christianity has adopted a Greco-Roman narrative, and that this is incapable of addressing key issues such as poverty, equality, environment and violence.
The Greco-Roman narrative, according to MacLaren, teaches that human beings were created in an ideal world; then the Fall occurred, and humans found themselves in a becoming world in which they could choose to be saved in a Platonic heaven, or choose eternal punishment in a Greek-style Hades. The present life is all about sorting out who will go to which destiny. It ought not to be necessary to state that this is a caricature that no thoughtful person actually believes.
MacLaren contrasts God as ‘Theos’ with God as ‘Abba’. The first is the angry God of the Old Testament; the second the loving God of Jesus and the New Testament. In the Theos-driven narrative, salvation is equivalent to atonement.
What we need, according to MacLaren, is a new way of reading the Bible. The Bible, with its many different forms of literature, witnesses to a God who, at first, is creator, sustainer, and liberator. But all these images point forward to Jesus, whose God is not Theos but Abba. And the over-arching narrative is about God’s plan to restore all creation.
As the Bible unfolds, says MacLaren, the more primitive view of God is gradually replaced by a more mature view:-
This evolving God comes to mature expression in Jesus:-
In McKnight’s view, MacLaren’s work contains some keen insights, but also some serious flaws. In truth, the Bible does not exhibit the kind of neat, linear, evolution that MacLaren’s imagines it does.
Alas, concludes McKnight, Brian MacLaren’s ‘new kind of Christianity’ is not new at all. It’s a rehash of the liberalism of Harnack, Harvey Cox and Marcus Borg:-
[Kevin Young’s extensive critique of MacLaren’s book can be found here]