I’m still in process of reading Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith, and for the most part I really appreciate it. McLaren coherently describes the conventionally-accepted framework of the Biblical narrative, which he calls the “Greco-Roman model,” and contrasts it with a narrative that takes into account the story of God’s calling and working through the Jews leading up to Jesus. He is likewise helpful in posing the contrast between Bible-as-constitution (his characterization of the various “inerrancy” approaches), and Bible-as-library, an approach that takes the breadth and nuance of biblical writers into account. He’s at his best, IMO, in his discussion of the centrality of Jesus and the gospels as the lens/filter/paradigm through which all scripture, both Old Testament and Epistles, must be read.
Unfortunately, I can’t recommend the book unreservedly, because peppered throughout nearly every chapter, McLaren can’t seem to get away from a need to throw in comments that essentially paint the gay rights agenda as the civil rights moral issue of the day. Again and again, he lumps “homophobia” (a sloppy word if I ever saw one) with slavery, apartheid, Jim Crow, and the like, as places where the church has been on the wrong side of history and justice.
I haven’t read other writing by McLaren, so perhaps I missed an argument he’s made more coherently somewhere else. I don’t presume to understand where he’s coming from on this. But he seems to have made a category mistake that I find all too frequently among Christians who are recovering from their fundamentalist afflictions, of accepting without critique the claim that homosexuality is an identity, and therefore issues of how we respond to gays are necessarily civil and human rights issues. Wholly unconsidered (at least in the present book) is the notion that homosexual practice might, in fact, still be sinful even if one is not a right-wingnut (As I have previously written, I suggest that gay practice is simply a subset of adultery, which remains equally unacceptable for the believer whether straight OR gay).
I’m sorry to say that this constant drumbeat distracts from an otherwise-helpful and -challenging set of questions that the church would do well to consider. That said, if you can see past the distraction, I do recommend the book.
Edit: Well, I was wrong about the argument being somewhere else—I just read Chapter 17 over lunch, where McLaren goes through his argument in greater detail. I would not say his argument is compelling, though it is indeed interesting, as he makes the case that a binary (just male and female) sexuality is an “ideal concept” a-la Plato just as much as some of the Greco-Roman notions of God are Platonic rather than Biblical. He goes on to basically say that our more nuanced understanding of biology today militates against such simplistic reading of sexuality.
McLaren then points out–quite correctly according to my reading–the fact that Christians in general, and Evangelical Christians in particular, seem little different from everyone else regarding sexual practice (premarital/extramarital sex, divorce), though perhaps we experience more guilt and conflicted feelings than others. He concludes by suggesting that perhaps we need as a church to re-examine the whole concept of sexuality based on our current base of knowledge and centered in the love of Jesus. He seems (to me at least) to leave open the notion that even serial or contemporaneous polyamory/polygamy, as well as the spectrum of GLBT issues, might not be outside the pale of Jesus-followers’ practice in this new consideration. In fact, I’m not sure he believes there’s any place for sexual mores EVEN AMONG THE COMMUNITY OF BELIEVERS in the light of current biology and loving Jesus’ way.
McLaren is correct that religion has been the bastion of a lot of stick-in-the-mud, head-in-the-sand obstinacy. In this chapter he reminds us of the church’s opposition to everything from Galilean and Copernican cosmology to South African apartheid. But I think he, too, needs to be confronted with a question: Are you saying that just because constitutionalist church hierarchies have insisted on a thing, that it must necessarily be wrong? And how is this different from the Corinthian church Paul was blasting in 1 Corinthians 5?
I will reiterate that McLaren asks a lot of useful questions in this book…questions the church needs to confront. But I think he’s gone over the edge on the sexuality issue, and he seems to me to have forgotten that Jesus, while loving and associating with “sinners,” still called them to “sin no more.” The conservative church still needs to be called to account for its demands that the unredeemed world start acting like they say Christians should act, before they can be “saved.” But dismissing all acknowledgment of a moral standard is not going to help get that message across.