UPDATE: Brian McLaren graciously responds to this post, my next post on Reviewers Reviewing and my later post where I have Questions for him (which he responds to).
Brian McLaren's new book is now appearing in the hands of those who pre-ordered it. My copy of A New Kind of Christianity arrived last Thursday. I grabbed fleeting moments over the weekend to quickly read it. From the dust cover of the book,
We are in the midst of a paradigm shift in the church. Not since the Reformation five centuries ago have so many Christians come together to ask whether the church is in sync with their deepest beliefs and commitments. These believers range from evangelicals to mainline Protestants to Catholics, and the person who best represents them is author and pastor Brian McLaren. [emphasis added]
Brian's book tells us immediately that Brian best represents those of us who question the institutional church. A little "all your leadership are belong to me" perhaps – at least for those of us who dare question the present state of the church. Now, perhaps it's just marketing hyperbole. Maybe Brian really doesn't think he's God's answer to the present state of the church.
Or God's ten answers that is.
But he certainly wants to frame how his book is reviewed.
Scot McKnight pointed to the binary "Quiz" Brian ran on his blog:
"If A you probably are a Fundamentalist…"
"If B you are curious…"
…the arrangement smacks of radical individualism and denies the foundational role our communities play in our knowledge and social construction of reality. What's wrong with asking about every new idea what "the Church" or my community thinks? Or if it is logically consistent with what I've already concluded to be sound? Not only that, but the world of Jesus was much more like the first answer than the second, and that is has been brought to the fore by cultural anthropologists like Bruce Malina, who adapts the research of Mary Douglas and others.
I also wonder if this is not a false dichotomy: I know plenty of fundies who are intrinsically curious people, who wonder "what if?" and who are always chasing down their questions. I know plenty on the other side who aren't in the least curious.
My friend, Darryl Dash in his post, Ending the Discussion Before it Starts, says this,
I’ve found that there are ways to end a discussion before it even begins. It’s easy: you set the terms of the discussion so that if you disagree with me, then it’s clearly because you have a problem, so it’s no use even continuing. It’s not really fair, but it allows me to pretend that I have the moral high ground while it effectively silences you, if you let it that is. [emphasis added]
And then later responding to Brian's writing at the end of A New Kind of Christianity where it would seem that Brian insists that he and his friends should get to set the terms of the discussion of his book, Darryl writes,
…if we say that we have concerns, it’s implied that we have a problem and we’re trying to shut things down. This makes it hard to review a book, never mind deal with the kinds of issues raised in a book like this.
There is a level of cognitive dissonance in a writer who offers his book as the answer to all that ails Christianity and then also wants to frame how we engage with that book. And the dissonance is deeper in that said writer chooses to label those who disagree with him as close-minded Fundamentalists.
Perhaps it's time to read the 99 Theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto, Mr. McLaren. You sound like the companies they attempt to educate.
I'm sure it's rather unfortunate for you, but you don't get to decide how the rest of us engage with your book. Let me be blunt, your approach is reminiscent of the divisive politics perfected in the nation you call home. Where people who disagree with your president are labeled as racists – or those who agree are socialists. Of course, you showed some of that tendency yourself here, so perhaps I should not really be surprised.
Jeremy Bouma said this in his Goodbye Emergent post yesterday – a post that has generated a lot of response,
Recently, Doug Pagitt wrote on his blog and Brian McLaren said in a video that those of us who take them and others to task are held in bondage to fear and thoroughly un-loving; my motivation for analyzing the theology and beliefs of leaders within the emerging church is fear-based and inherently un-love. One word: ridiculous. I am not fearful; this has nothing to do with fear. In fact, the loving thing to do is in fact confront, prod, and question. [emphasis added – links to Pagitt and McLaren at Bouma's post.]
Let me offer this piece of advice to you, Brian, if you don't want to receive reviews that question your ideas then simply stop writing. It really is that simple.
Otherwise you will need to deal with the reality that the days of the idea gatekeepers are over. Welcome to the networked conspiracy.
I'll begin to review the book in my next post, later this week.