To suggest I was surprised by some of the reactions to my previous review posts on McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity would be disingenuous. I expected push back from folk who are Brian's fans and I certainly got it. What was disheartening, however, was the level at which some responded. One person called me "mean and nasty" and said she would side with McLaren simply based on how I wrote – somehow likening McLaren to Martin Luther King and William Wilberforce – she didn't like my sarcastic tone. (I'd suggest her hyperbole filter was broken.) In response to that comment, a friend emailed me to suggest I "might win the battle, but lose the war." Mean, nasty, war, battle – really?!
Now, there is no doubt that I responded strongly to McLaren's book and there is little need for me to rehash my points. But the fact that so many people, many who had yet to read the book, found it necessary to defend Brian rather than discuss the points of my argument – to suggest that I simply "misunderstood him" rather than being willing to discuss the points raised – to label me as a conservative rather than engaging with me as a somewhat sentient human being – suggests that we have lost the art of vigorous debate and only want to engage in what we have labeled "civil discourse." But really what we mean by that phrase is "we need to be nice to each other, talk to each other gently and never tell the other person they're wrong – 'cause that just wouldn't be nice, you know."
As an aside, I found it indicative of the problems in this discourse that a "reviewer" on Amazon gave Brian's new book a five star rating even though they had yet to read it. "I really feel that I have to make comments even before I read the book. Reading the book will not change the content of this comment." [emphasis added] At least the person is honest enough to tell us that reading the book will not change how they will feel about it.
Scot McKnight wrote a strongly negative response to Brian's book that was published at Christianity Today's site last Friday (February 26th.). At one point he dismissed the cornerstone of Brian's thesis, the Greco-Roman soul-sort narrative,
McLaren's soul-sort narrative is a caricature of a narrative that no responsible thinker really believes or teaches in the bald, insensitive, and barbaric ways described in this book. It's a caricature of Romans 5. [emphasis added]
Now, one can choose to read that as Scot being "mean and nasty" by the strength with which he makes his argument – or one could accept that this is a noted University Professor, speaking from within his field of expertise who is frustrated by the fallacious nature of McLaren's thesis and dismisses it out of hand. Although Scot and Brian are friends, Scot is not concerned about Brian's "feelings" here because he is vigorously engaging with Brian's argument.
I like Brian, and I think Brian is a good man, and I think he said important things that we evangelicals need to hear, but what I think of Brian as a person is not the same as what I think of his latest book: A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith. So, I'd appreciate it if this review does not turn into a "I like Brian" or "I dislike Brian" contest. The issue is what he has written. [emphasis added]
As is normal for us when one of us reads a book we find particularly interesting or challenging, we read select parts to the other. Imbi read the quote below to me late Saturday evening – finding what the Bishop of Durham says therein particularly appropriate to the present discussion,
Part of our difficulty in the Christian world of late Western modernity has been that the mind, the faculty of thought and reasoning, has become detached. As happens if you have a detached retina in your eye, when you're thinking becomes detached you stop seeing things clearly. "Thought"and "reason" seem to have been placed to one side, in a private world reserved for "intellectuals" and "academics."(Note for example, the way in which sports commentators use the word "academic" to mean "irrelevant" as in "from now on the result of the race is academic.") Furthermore, we often speak of our thoughts as if they were feelings: in a meeting, to be polite, we might say "I feel that's wrong", because it sounds less confrontational than saying, "I think that's wrong". Similarly, perhaps without realizing it (which itself is a sign of the same problem!), we sometimes allow feelings to override thoughts: "I feel very strongly that we should do this" can carry more rhetorical weight than "I think we should do that" since nobody wants to hurt our feelings. As a natural next step, we allow feelings to replace thought processes altogether, so that what looks outwardly like a reasoned discussion is actually an exchange of unreasoned emotions, in which all participants claim the high moral ground because when they say, "I feel strongly we should to do this", they are telling the truth: they do feel strongly, so they will feel hurt and rejected if people don't agree with them. Thus reasoned discourse is abandoned in favour of the politics of the playground. (2010 SPCK, Virtue Reborn, Pg 134) [emphasis added]
No doubt there are many who read my reviews who "feel" that I reacted in a "mean and nasty" way to Brian. Again, there is no debate that sarcasm is a voice I often use at this blog. That being said, isn't choosing to simply react to that voice rather than engage with the points I've made – in some cases rather well, might I suggest – exactly what Wright is talking about?
I think it's great some of you like Brian a lot and believe him to be a very nice man. I wouldn't debate that point with you for a nanosecond. But it is not Brian's character or personality I have "done battle with" but rather the ideas in his book. Ideas, might I add, that say some pretty "mean and nasty" things about those who disagree with those ideas. (And I back that statement up with actual quotes and page numbers in the previous reviews.)