What’s in Brian McLaren’s new book? What did he tell me about dialogue between Christians and atheists?
Find out now.
We Make the Road by Walking
Brian McLaren, a former pastor, is a prolific author and speaker.
He’s (in)famous for his prominent role in the emerging church, a movement that started in the ’90s or so. The movement consisted of disillusioned evangelicals, and others, who wanted to explore new ways of expressing their Christian faith.
The controversial part? This new exploration often included shifts toward more liberal theological views on hell, the Bible, and the role of evangelism.
For an example of the criticism Brian receives, see Neo-Reformed author Tim Challies’s recent post—which calls McLaren a false teacher. McLaren’s gracious response to Challies is worth reading. Full disclosure: I’m more conservative than Brian, but I think that if we focus on the positives, he’s got a lot of great stuff to say.
Friday night, McLaren discussed spiritual community and his new book, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation.
The book has 52 chapters, each of which features a short reading, as well as questions and suggested practices. McLaren uses the term “aliveness” to refer to spiritual growth and fulfillment:
What we all want is pretty simple, really. We want to be alive. To feel alive. . . . We capture this kind of mindful, overbrimming life in terms like well-being, shalom, blessedness, wholeness, harmony, life to the full, and aliveness. . . . When people say, “I’m spiritual,” what they mean, I think, is simple: “I’m seeking aliveness.”
I like this way of putting it, not least because it reminds me of You, Me and Dupree. Why is that? Because Owen Wilson’s character also talks about “ness”: “What’s ‘ness’? It’s your name, plus ‘ness.’ “ This clip is hilarious; the whole movie is underrated.
Back to McLaren. I like his description of aliveness. He has many great lines in the book, but I want to focus on a wonderful passage he wrote about faith:
Faith is stepping off the map of what’s known and making a new road by walking into the unknown. It’s responding to God’s call to adventure, stepping out on a quest for goodness . . . True faith isn’t a deal where we use God to get the inside track or a special advantage or a secret magic formula for success. It isn’t a mark of superiority or exclusion. True faith is about joining God in God’s love for everyone.
Faith is trusting and responding to God. I love Brian’s insistence that true faith means participating in God’s love for all.
Reading We Make the Road by Walking is a worthwhile investment, even if you quibble with some of his theology. McLaren encourages you to embrace true faith—which means loving God and loving others. Somebody else said that, I think.
Nic Cage book rating scale: Con Air
“[Atheists] have data everybody needs”
After McLaren finished his talk about spiritual community Friday night, he opened up the floor for questions.
He was kind enough to field one of mine. I asked him about strategies for encouraging respectful and illuminating conversation between Christians and atheists about God. (Which is the goal of this blog, by the way.)
McLaren responded by sharing two anecdotes.
First, he mentioned a recent conversation he had with Ryan Bell, a former Christian pastor, which he said I might find helpful. In January, Bell “began a yearlong journey exploring the limits of theism and the atheist landscape in the United States.”
In this video, Bell and McLaren cover some great topics: what counts as “evidence,” if liberal theology leads to the death of God entirely, and the evolution of religious belief.
Second, he told me about a new friend of his.
An incredibly well-educated person read one of Brian’s books, and then reached out to him. (Brian didn’t want to divulge many details, out of privacy concerns.) The person had been an atheist, but expressed newfound confusion to Brian. How does the universe start with hydrogen gas, and wind up producing opera? Doesn’t it look like there is some arc, some purpose to the whole thing? Brian then said that the person was curious about bringing back belief in God “at a higher level.”
You can check out a video of Brian describing this story to Bell.
McLaren’s anecdotes were very helpful, as was his line that “[atheists] have data everybody needs.” What is this data? Why folks become atheists in the first place.
What causes atheism? Many things, but I think bad Christian theology is at the top of the list. How many people are forced into the false dilemma between accepting science and worshipping Jesus? How many people are discouraged from processing their sincere theological doubts, only to have those doubts drown them when life hits a bumpy road?
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Brian McLaren, someone who appreciates these questions, admires “faitheist” Chris Stedman. Both of them realize the prerequisite for respectful and illuminating dialogue: focusing on what you have in common with the other, and working together toward a common goal.
What do you think of these Brian McLaren quotations and anecdotes?
If you’re an atheist, what data do you have? Why are you an atheist?
What’s the best strategy for dialogue between Christians and atheists?