Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The need for a new kind of Christian

I hope you've all at least begun reading McLaren's book A New Kind of Christian, and I hope it's provoking some interesting questions and thoughts for you. I'm hoping that you all will email me with some of your thoughts and questions about it soon (if you haven't already). As for this blog conversation, I'd like for us to discuss the whole premise of the book, i.e. that we need a new kind of Christian in the first place. In the Introduction (specifically pages xii-xv) Brian gives a list of experiences he's had that have led him to believe a new kind of Christian is necessary, and in the rest of the book we see Pastor Dan's struggle as he becomes increasingly disillusioned with the theology and culture of traditional Christianity.

My question is this: what experiences have you had that leave you disillusioned with traditional Christianity and desirous of something new and fresh? What makes you feel restless with your faith? What questions have occurred to you that the typical Christian responses fail to adequately answer?

My point is not for us to just start complaining and griping about the things we don't like. But I do think that unless we do feel a little bit of restlessness and discontent with Christianity-as-usual, then we really aren't going to understand why there is any need for a new kind of Christian in the first place. So at least for this post, let's just be free and honest with our discontent, with our longings that our faith could be different, better, than it often is.

Of course, if you are not discontent, if you haven't ever really felt dissatisfied with your approach to faith, that's okay too. Feel free to be honest about that too. However, I would encourage you to listen then. Keep an open mind with those of us who are less than satisfied, and really try to understand where our restlessness is coming from. Try to look at it from a fresh perspective and try to empathize with angst and frustrations that others do feel.

Discontent is not a stopping point, we won't just stay in a negative vein, but it is a good starting point for a journey of rediscovery and reformation.

Let's hear your experiences...


gerbmom said...

A couple thoughts:
I could never find a way to share my faith that wasn't offensive. I remember a girl from our youth group that would do just about ANYTHING to "witness". It was so offensive, embarrassing - and even insulting. Even as a teen I understood that. After observing that, I was never a big one for overt witnessing. I certainly didn't want to be associated with her or HER faith. And sharing my faith was more of a lifestyle thing.
Another biggie was being taught in such a way that we were never allowed to think for ourselves, and work out what we believed in any area. We were given a list of things good Christians did, or didn't do, and a check-list of how to "know" one was truly a Christian. This always frustrated me, but there were no other options at that time, and just questioning the status quo labeled you as someone who didn't truly believe.
I didn't want this for my own kids. That was the biggest reason I started to follow my heart and rethink things. Because deep down I knew there had to be a "better" (for lack of a better term) way.
I remember in college - a conservative church college - feeling like I just didn't measure up. I didn't do all the things the "good" Christians seemed so gung ho about doing. I would berate myself that I didn't spend more time in Bible study and prayer. My philosophies didn't match up with the party line. What was I doing wrong? Obviously this led to a real crisis of faith for me. I handled it the best I could and went on about my life trying not to stray too far from the list of rules. But this was so not me, and I struggled and questioned and doubted and hurt. For years. Until I found a new way of looking at things, understanding things; a way that worked for me. Until I realized I was free to do things a different way, it was ok not to follow rule #10 - no one knew why it was there anyway.
Rigid, judgmental people, more concerned about rules than people. It all made no sense to me. Why weren't we helping each other, cheering each other on, hurting with each other and learning from each other? Why were we hiding behind masks of a perfect Christian, perfect life, no hurts, no problems, all is great existence? Sunday faces. That disillusioned me too, because I had problems, hurts etc. and it seemed no one else did, and I shouldn't if I was living "for Christ" and following "His Way."
In, Out, Country Club Christians - it all hurt me, disillusioned me, made me not want to deal with Christianity at all. But guilt kept me going. Another kind of hurt.
Questions? I had questions about salvation issues, legalism issues, why sacred and secular were kept separate. Why we categorized some sins as worse than others and made them linchpins of our belief system. Abortion, Gay issues, etc. And why we didn't see other things as sins as all - not feeding the poor and justice issues. Why we thought one way, and another denomination thought another, was I better than them? Smarter? My church would have me believe so. Predestination. Big questions there. Free will. But more often than not I ignored and repressed the questions, because honestly, it was easier that way. It was enough to say I was unhappy and disillusioned at that point, I didn't need to keep digging, trying to find non-existent or unsatisfactory answers.
I don't know if that answer is what you are looking for. Sometimes it is hard to pin down the reasons for feeling discontent. Sometimes you just ARE restless and unsettled. You can't always put your finger on it, yet you know deep inside it is time to move on, to rethink your position. And only after moving on can you look back and say - Oh yeah, that was a big part of it. I never realized just how much that affected me. Or, ok I see how that was an aspect of my discontent. I get it now.

JROB1972 said...

You won't have to look hard to find the parts of traditional Christianity which dissapoint me. The folks at Westboro Baptist chruch spread enough ill Christian will for all to appreciate. These are the people who have been protesting at military funerals saying that God is allowing our soldiers to die becuase of the United States' acceptance of homosexuals. I was just looking at a picutre on the web of a protester holding a sign saying "God Hates Fags". I'm not sure about the rest of you, but I have not seen the words "God Hates" used a lot in the bible nor have NEVER seen a specific reference to God pontificating about his hatred of "fags". In short, these messages being shown on TV, on the net, in our newspapers, are the reason that there needs to be a new kind of christian.

We need more people to model a way of love, to show the world that Jesus was about love and inclusion not hatred and exclusion. One way in which to model this is through mission work. Not the "count the new souls saved" missions, rather, the feed the poor, heal the sick, love the enemy type mission. This missionary style evangelism is one area in which I struggle as a Christian. It's easy to read about being a new Christian, to talk about it, to agree with it whole heartedly. What is hard is putting it into action in my life. I want to be able to do more to help the least amongst us, but then I experience some sort of spiritual paralysis which prevents me from actually taking action. Sometimes it makes me feel like a phony, not genuine, a hypocrite. I'm guessing that others my harbor these same feelings, and its good to belong to a Chrisitian community which allows for people to honestly express their doubts and fears. Somehow I have the feeling that I would not be as free to express these feelings at Westboro Baptist.

I struggle with not being judgmental. I grew up with my Grandparents who pretty much saw life as black and white. There were people who were right and people who were wrong. There were actions which were sins and those where were not. I'm not saying that there isn't right or wrong, but I personally don't feel it is our place to judge others. I beleive it is NEO who asks in the book who the greater sinner was, the woman caught in adultery or the Pharasees ready to stone her for it. I try to be understanding of others views, but man sometimes it is really freakin' hard. If I could have actually recorded my thoughts when I saw the picture of the protester I mentioned earlier, well they probably would have gotten me kicked out of most churches in the US and maybe even put up on legal charges in some southern states. I guess what I am trying to say is that we need there to be new Christians so that we can love the "God Hates Fags" protester rather than pass judgement on him.

Brandy said...

Hmm... good question. this question is a bit hard for me because I feel like i have removed myself to some degree from the modern Christianity. but it is impossible to remove oneself entirely, and I still see it in my own life and at wheaton. i will also allow myself to reminisce a bit, and where i saw it (old church, etc..) it still exists.

Some concerns i have with the tradiitonal modern church:
* the Gospel of Sin Management- as Dallas Willard calls it. The idea that life is about not sinning... it makes faith more methodological and less relational. i think it also encourages an extrinsic as opposed to an intrisic faith.
* the idea of destination... as opposed to journey. its about where you get instead of what you do to get there. i experienced this during some struggles i had while at a modern church. they were so concerned with saving me, with making me better, rather then wanting to walk with me as i decided for myself. this, i think, also encouraged external change rather then internal change. this external change thing is one of my big biffs with the modern church.
* church growth being the issue. i think mclaren talks about this in light of the modern idea of conquest and control. my old church was soooo focused on growing, getting bigger numbers, getting more people saved, that they did not care about change in the people or their emotinal health.
* the strict focus on objective truth. God is the answer, this is the way that looks and that is all there is too it. this goes along with the journey thing... i have been at churches that have shamed people, and me, for questioning or for having viewpoints different from orthodoxy, or from their doctrine. this too seems to encourage external faith.

There have definitely been questions that i think the church has answered, but very not adequately... on a quick side note, they may have had too many answers... some things that are not black and white and in my experiences have been quickly given cliche black/white answers... but some of those questions, there are the basics like:

- how could a good God allow people to go to hell... i have gotten (and unfortunately given) a lot of cliche answers on this one. i have also gotten and given variations on this one... how could God condemn someones sexual orientation? How could or could God condemn someone who has never heard of them, or someone who has grown up entrenched in other religions?

i am running late for class and cant think. here is a start to my opinions... maybe more later...

gerbmom said...

Oh yeah,
and the church taking possession of politics? I was raised in a home with a democratic (southern)mother and a republican father. (NY republican....) Vastly different approaches to things. So we were raised to think and make choices and vote for the best candidate. And then it began. Because apparently you can not be a Christian and a democrat. And that is scary. And I know that hurt my grandparents. But they were democrats till the day they died. They just had to put up with the judgments and criticisms. To them it felt like an attack on their person. I'm not a died-in-the-wool staunch Republican.... just another in a long line of reason why I may not be a Christian.....
We need a new kind of Christian that rises above this mentality! God is not Democrat or Republican. Hmmmm....

Brandy said...

AMEN to the political comment

WarePhreak Wyncoop said...

One issue which has been touched on is not thinking for one's self. The Bible college Char and I attended had many students who were there because there relatives went. They just wanted to attend class to take the notes necessary to pass the tests and class, but not question or understand what was being said. It wasn't personal.

Another is the "christian bubble". We are called to be in the world but not of the world. This doesn't mean we sit apart and just live our "nice" lives. We need to interact and relate with the world but also point and live in and for God's glory.

The general definition I have seen for post-modern is a reaction to modern. When I hear this I tend to think of the "equal and opposite reaction" we learn about in science. I tend to think the new kind of christian is not a reaction but more of a correction.

I feel that there are many good things about my faith and relationship with God that just need a tweak or two. For me, there is an appropriate time, place and way to explicitly witness.

I struggle with the whole politics religion interaction. I agree that God is not one party or the other, but above them. That almost sounds like it came from the book. However I feel we as christians do have a resposibility to participate, but the degree is what I am trying to define.

Mike Clawson said...

Matt, you're absolutely right that the "new kind of Christian" is a correction rather than a reaction to "modern" Christianity. That's an excellent way to put it.

In fact, postmodernism itself could probably be best described as a correction rather than a reaction (though it sometimes is that too). As I've said at our Vision Team sessions, "post" means "after" not "against". As (I think) Neo says, "postmodernism" means having come through modernism and having learned its lessons, benefitted from its good points, but then moving on, beyond, to something fuller, more balanced. Neo compares it to adulthood and adolescence. An adult is not anti-adolescence so much as post-adolescent. It means having passed through adolescence and having been changed by it, usually in a good way. It means growth and maturation.

April said...

I would say that the biggest life experience that I have had that has left me disillusioned with traditional Christianity was the 10 months I spent as a volunteer with a national service program. This may be backwards in a sense of I didn't realize it because of what I saw in the church and didn't like, but rather I saw them when I went and 'lived in the world' in a very real way that I had never done before. I knew going into the program my faith would be irrelevant to many of the others I encountered, but I didn't realize how irrelevant it really was going to be.
It was there I realized that a 'good works' theology means nothing because the very least spiritual person can do good works too. Meaning I can do good works, but so can the kid next door who's addicited to drugs and an alcoholic..but rather it's what motivates you and what sustains you doing them and also your attitude and the way you present Christ as you are doing them.
It was at that time I also came to the realization that you can do taboo (in the Christian sub-culture) things and still be a witness.
This experience drastically changed who I was in relation to my faith and I have not quite figured a whole lot of things out quite yet...but it was the experience that opened my eyes and made me desire to change the direction of my faith journey.
I know that these thoughts are not complete and may not make's what I have at the moment...