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Tired of Turning Pages

kinnon —  October 20, 2010 — 6 Comments

This is somewhat pathetic.

Or.

Rather.

I am somewhat pathetic.

I'm a fan of C.J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake series. I devoured the first four books in the series – after Ben Witherington wrote about them. Most of my family and many of my friends have become Sansom fans because of the pleasure we have all experienced in the good reads he has provided. The next book in the series would only add to that pleasure.

At some point in the last year, when Amazon announced the fifth book, Heartstone, I must have pre-ordered it. Long before I ever considered becoming a Kindle-ite.

The book arrived two weeks ago. Imbi has already read it. And thoroughly enjoyed it.

I've read a bunch of other books on my Kindle 3 – but have resisted picking up the new Shardlake book. And not because I don't want to read it. But simply because I'd rather read it on my Kindle – and I'm just barely smart enough NOT to order and download it onto my device when we already own the Hardcover.

I just whined at Imbi about not wanting to read it as an actual book.

"I'd prefer to read it on my Kindle."

"What, have you forgotten how to turn physical pages? Are you too weak to pick the book up?"

"Sigh."

But. Look. The book IS really big. And I'm old.

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A Book by a NakedPastor

kinnon —  October 1, 2010 — 1 Comment

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My friend, David Hayward has published his first book of his wonder-filled comics. (Sometimes the wonder is truly wondrous, other times incredulous but David’s cartoons are always thought-provoking… and some times tears provoking – whether from laughter or from David shining light on the evil within us all.)

Imbi said to me last night, “We need to immediately order a copy of David’s book” when she saw his note about it on Facebook. I’m thinking we need to order more than one.

This is what I offered as an endorsement,

Humour. Pathos. The ugly and the beautiful. David’s unique gift exposes the joy and the pain in a God-centered life.

Others have said this,

David Hayward does what cartoonists do best: he makes you laugh, gets you on side, and then catches you unawares with a challenging thought that comes at you sideways. Unmissable!Maggi Dawn

“His work is raw, honest and intelligent.Jon Birch

Ever since I stumbled upon David’s cartoons, I’ve been hooked.Hemant Mehta

Through nakedpastor’s cartoons, I’ve been able to join other broken buddies as we pray and play on the fringes of the faith. By deconstructing the mounds of Jesus junk, we can catch fleeting glimpses of God.Becky Garrison

David’s cartoon’s are often funny, sometimes sad, always honest. I think of them as political cartoons that aren’t about politics: they express a longing or a frustration or challenge to think in a new way.Mark Oestreicher

Buy early. Buy often. They’ll make great gifts alongside any turkey – whether at Canadian Thanksgiving, All Hallows Eve, American Thanksgiving or Xmas.

ASIDE: After my announcement that I was back to serious blogging in early September, physical challenges prevented that happening. I fractured my tailbone in a fall in late August and it would appear – according to a recent chiropractic visit – that I also managed to give myself whiplash in said fall. Any typing (other than about 140 characters) has been far too painful. However, with the work of an incredibly gifted physio therapist (physical therapist to you Yanks) and a chiro, I appear to be on the mend.

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With the present discussion of N.T. Wright’s After You Believe (published as Virtue Reborn in the U.K.) I wanted to point you to Imbi’s very good review of the book here @ kinnon.tv from back in mid-March.

Bishop N.T. Wright does a masterful sweep of ethics and its various roots and streams, calling us back to working at Christian virtue – identifying and then avoiding the extremes of grace and works – those two polarizing positions of Christian history. In fact, the book gives us a broad enough and thoroughly orthodox way forward – to begin to become who we already are, in Christ – doing so framed within the church, communally, for the sake of the world, missionally.

Read the whole review here.

Review by Imbi Medri-Kinnon. In North America, the book is known as After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. (Rylan Kinnon brought the book home for his parents, from the U.K.)

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Tom Wright's – Virtue Reborn – is a book that should turn our heads. From the past and present swirling conversations and (re)alignments, and the positioning that we find ourselves in at this time – as Christians in the church – to the point that we should be focused on; the future hope and glory of the Kingdom of God, through our present reality within the life of Christ.

Bishop N.T. Wright does a masterful sweep of ethics and its various roots and streams, calling us back to working at Christian virtue – identifying and then avoiding the extremes of grace and works – those two polarizing positions of Christian history. In fact, the book gives us a broad enough and thoroughly orthodox way forward – to begin to become who we already are, in Christ – doing so framed within the church, communally, for the sake of the world, missionally.

The fundamental answer we shall explore in this book is that what we are "here for" is to become genuine human beings, reflecting the God in whose image we are made, and doing so in worship on the one hand and in mission, in its full and large sense, on the other; and that we do this not least by "following Jesus." The way this works out is that it produces, through the work of the Holy Spirit, a transformation of character which functions as the Christian version of what philosophers have called "virtue." This transformation will mean that we do indeed "keep the rules" – though not out of a sense of externally imposed "duty," but out of the character that has been formed within us. And it will mean that we do include "follow our hearts" and live "authentically" – but only when, with that transformed character fully operative – like an airline pilot with a lifetime's experience – the hard work up front bears fruit in spontaneous decisions and actions that reflect what has been formed deep within. And, in the wider world, the challenge we face is to grow and develop a fresh generation of leaders, in all walks of life, whose character has been formed in wisdom and public service, not greed for money or power.

The heart of it – the central thing that is supposed to happen after you believe, the thing we call a virtue in a new, reborn sense – is thus the transformation of character. (Virtue Reborn, Page 24) [emphasis added]

Bishop Wright calls us to action at many levels – to become who Christ says we are/will be, that is sanctified, and like Him. And to do so in a context that displays the virtues of the Kingdom – that is within the church community so that the world is "compelled" to ask us about the hope of glory they see through how we choose to act, to love, and to grow deeper into Christ-likeness. So that when this age has passed, we are ready to rule and reign with Christ in His kingdom, as his priests and kings. This dual capacity orients us both to the world and to God.

…a glad and unworried trust in the Creator God, whose kingdom is now at last starting to arrive, leading to a glad and generous heart toward other people, even those who are technically "enemies." Faith, hope, and love: here they are again. They are the language of life, the sign in the present of green shoots growing through the concrete of this sad old world, the indication that the Creator God is on the move, and that Jesus' hearers and followers can be part of what he's now doing. (Virtue Reborn Pg 94)

This is a serious call to look to the future and to begin to do the character formation work required of us as individuals (not because we are not already saved by grace, but simply because in the words of the Apostle John, "we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.") There are decisions to be made in character development, that lead to us becoming virtuous. It does not happen magically, nor does it happen overnight. The Apostle Paul speaks of "pressing on" towards the goal.

This book gives us a rational way forward, growing in character, which leads to virtue that behaves as it is meant to – loving communally -, because we are doing the work and the spiritual growth necessary that will, by what it produces, cause the world to stand up and take notice. It clarifies and recenters all of us to the way of discipleship that Eugene Peterson years ago called" A Long Obedience in the Same Direction" – a title that sums up what Bishop Wright is drawing together for us out of the many threads, indeed the tapestry that makes up the holy catholic church.

Interestingly, Wright extends his conversation with ethics and character beyond just the church audience to include anyone in the western world grappling with ethics – he believes that Christian ethics and virtue are not an end on to themselves – allowing me to become proud of what I have accomplished, in the manner of Aristotle. But rather, Virtue Reborn is always directed towards the good of the body of Christ, and the good of fellow man – we are, after all, alive in the Christ who gave up everything for each of us. Are we the people that will know how to rule and reign as a royal priesthood in Christ's Kingdom, because we have been willing to grow up into all that He means for us to be? Does the world "know we are Christians by our love?"

The Christian walk is often portrayed as a journey. What Wright does with this book is suggest that just like the barricades on sides of highways which keep us from falling into ditches or crossing into oncoming traffic, grace and works act as safety barriers. As proficient drivers, we steer a clear course on the road, not careening off one side or the other. Neither do we stand in the ditches (or in the side aisles) and lob stones at each other, or indeed at the traffic going by. But, on this journey, we are going somewhere, and preparing to "be perfect" . Of course, each of us is at different places – the key being that we are actually meant to be on the journey.

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I watched the winning goal in the men's final hockey game at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics where we won the Gold in "our game" – speaking as a Canadian, of course – as I was finishing Virtue Reborn. In explaining what happened afterwards, the sports commentator mentioned having waited and watched for better playing from Crosby and then said something to the effect of "and we got it when we needed it."

Crosby had prepared for that moment for years – and he took the shot because that was what he had been training for. The "luck" involved was in the thousands upon thousand of hours of practice in preparation. So that it had "become natural" to know what to do when it counted. Nobody was expecting it at that point in the Olympics, and yet his prep work snuck it in …

When asked about it, Crosby spoke of not even knowing at first that it had been his goal. "I was given chances and eventually it was going to go in……… !"

What a call for each of us as the church – to work at this life of character building – leading to virtues that will cause us to do the right thing, when the moment comes, as it will for each of us. Where and when only God knows, but when it truly matters will we know it in our bones, marrow, hearts and brains – and do the right thing, make the right decision, becoming Christ-like in our character.  Are we the signposts and beachheads of God's future kingdom in this current world? It is not just a matter of "luck" (grace) but rather preparation and work and decision-making so that doing the right thing becomes automatic.

COURAGE: One last Olympic moment; an example from the selection of a winner of the Terry Fox Award. There were so many examples of grace under fire – and examples of the cost and preparation to be an Olympic athlete. Such a wealth of stories to encourage us to develop, to work at being who we already are – so that we might be ready to rule and reign with Christ. More importantly, that people ask us about the hope that we have, and the love that we function out of.

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I leave you with the words of the Slovenian cross-country skier, Petra Majdic, who fell down a hillside and had to be helped out, obviously injured. She finished her race, winning the bronze! And then discovered that she had several broken ribs – and had probably further injured herself in continuing the race – talk about character, talk about perseverance.

Christie Blatchford, Bill's favourite columnist in the Globe and Mail, quoted her as follows:

"If you make your best", as she put it in her absolutely lyrical English, "it will be worth it."

And that, friends, says it all.

UPDATE 2: Scot McKnight's two star review of A New Kind of Christianity is up at Christianity Today. Scot says this about Brian's "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]

McKnight is less than impressed with McLaren's book and almost seems to be responding to my question of Brian on the creeds,

Unfortunately, this book lacks the "generosity" of genuine orthodoxy and, frankly, I find little space in it for orthodoxy itself. Orthodoxy for too many today means little more than the absence of denying what's in the creeds. But a robust orthodoxy means that orthodoxy itself is the lens through which we see theology. One thing about this book is clear: Orthodoxy is not central. [emphasis added]

Scot does have a few positive things to say about the book – after all he does give it two stars. Please make a point of reading the full review at CT.

UPDATE: Dave Fitch weighs in with McLaren’s New Kind of Christianity – There’s a parting of the ways here – and that’s alright – Towards a New Missional Nicaea (Someday)

__________________________________________

I have a number of very good friends here in Toronto and spread across either side of the 49th Parallel who read my first draft of this post. They suggested I take a second run at it. Here's that run.

Last week, brother Brian McLaren wrote a long response to me in which he referred to me as a "Master Blogger." A less naive person than moi would probably wonder whether Brian's title for me, Shakespearean in it's subtlety, might be evoking images of a pajama-clad blogger engaged in certain solitary pursuits. I'll just say, "Gee, thanks for the compliment, Bri."

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My first attempt at response elicited this Batman cartoon from one friend, who suggested it might be a more succinct response than my original.

I really don't want to engage in a protracted back and forth with Brian, but I do want to mention a few things.

Brian responds to my concern with the hyperbole on the jacket copy of his book where it is asserted that "not since the Reformation have so many Christians come together to ask whether the church is in sync with their deepest beliefs and commitments" and that "the person who best represents them is author and pastor Brian McLaren."

Brian tells me that "authors don't write cover copy, and a lot of us complain about and are embarrassed by what's written, which is why we write books and not advertising copy." Fair enough. I guess I'd be embarrassed too – not that anyone would ever suggest I best represent anyone but myself, eh!

In my concerns with Brian wanting to frame how people review his magnum opus, he does a bit of mea culpa around the Curious / Fundamentalist quiz – saying he meant to be playful and apparently it backfired. Indeed. He finds himself in complete agreement with Scot McKnight in how that quiz could be misread. So was I (in agreement with Scot, that is.)

In his response to me, Brian also responds to Darryl Dash whom I quoted (in part),

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.

Brian writes,

I've apparently failed to make my intentions clear enough to preclude this implication, and I'm sorry about that. Let me try to put it positively: where you see me trying to shut down debate, I feel I'm trying to create space for some important questions to be raised. In other words, many of us feel things are pretty well shut down before we start, so we have to try to clear a little space for dialogue. As you know, in many of our religious settings, that's not easy. I'm trying to do this because, like you, I encounter so many people who are being crushed and smothered in environments where they have questions but aren't given breathing room to ask them. [emphasis added]

Brian, this seems all well and good. It reminds me of Brian McLaren – speaking version; the one I've heard on a number of platforms. But as one friend wrote after reading your response to me, "I don't know how to reconcile McLaren's response to you with his book!"

I have to agree with him.

In your book, you take a very different tack with those of us who would disagree with you in how you choose to interpret scripture – particularly John 14.

[Note: A pdf of Brian's understanding of John 14, particularly verse 6 is available here if you don't have the book and aren't planning on purchasing it.]

There's an expression I have sometimes heard used in terms of rhetoric where someone "uses a nuclear device where a hand grenade would do." Brian uses the nuclear option on pages 212-214 (as well as elsewhere in the book, might I suggest) to respond to those of us with, shall we say, a more "traditional" approach to the Scriptures.

We who would reject Brian's interpretation of John 14 as a result of our "Greco-Roman mind" are (Pg 213) in "perpetual anxiety," "always driven for more, more, more," our only "logical hope for the future: a world (here or after death) where "they" are gone forever and where the only ones left are "pure us," as "(they) don't really have the same right to exist that (we) do. So that when it comes to "them," (we) only have five options:"

A: Convert & assimilate – their otherness eliminated
B: Colonize & dominate "them" – making "them" subservient/useful to "us".
C: Ignore, exclude "them" – keeping them away from "us"
D: Fight, persecute, shame & keep "them" off balance and intimidated
E: " Cleanse" the world of them through mass murder – leaving only "us"

[From the bottom of Page 213 – abridged]

Wow, Brian!

One might almost think you were calling 'us disagreeable folk,' ethnic-cleansing fascists. I hear members of the audience suggesting, "Godwin's Law" or at least "reductio ad Hitlerum". If this doesn't "shut down debate" then what does. Now, I would agree that a nuclear device is rather effective at "creating space" but there is little left to talk about after using it.

You bemoan Greco-Roman minded, traditionalist readers of Scriptures as creating an "us – them" environment – but might I humbly suggest that that is exactly what you are doing, Brian.

The Wizard of Ads, Roy Williams (casual friend and publisher of my little book from 2006, A Networked Conspiracy) seems to respond to this very thing in another very good Monday Morning Memo. It begins with excerpts from Moses life story, but this is what I'd like to highlight,

If history can be trusted as a guide, we’re now entering the time of a power struggle. Everywhere it will be “us” versus “them.” And both sides will believe they work purely for the common good. "God is clearly on OUR side."

“You don’t care enough about global warming,
or free enterprise,
or civil liberties,
or the rights of the unborn,
or the downtrodden in Tibet.
You’re not committed to family values
and you don’t recycle.
You don’t support our troops.
Frankly, we’re disappointed in you.
You’re not doing your part.
Shape up.”


The coming zealot will want to make sure you’re doing your part for the team. You’ll be interrogated, evaluated and castigated. When you have capitulated, you’ll be authenticated, approximated and appropriated. In the end you’ll be assimilated. [emphasis added]

As your zealotry, Brian, revolves around your Greco-Roman thesis, let's deal with that again.

Your response to me would suggest you didn't recognize that I was using humour (it's a Canadian thing) when I did the whole Paul – Greco-Roman dance. In fact, I pointed you at Dr. Mike Wittmer, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at GRTS and his blog post that deals with this Greco-Roman mind "theory" in your book. You make no mention of Mike in your response so I have no idea whether you have had the time to read Mike. (As an aside, my buddy, the iMonk, did a great interview with Mike last July – which is how I learned about Dr. Wittmer.)

Your book strongly suggests that you do not trust the motives of people like Mike – with his seminary education, his Hebrew and Greek reading, his seminary associate professorship, in fact. You appear to see people like Mike as "guards" who keep us "content under the dome", using a Truman Show analogy,

The chains, locks, bars, and barbed wire that hold us are usually disguised so well that they have a homey feel to us. We see our guards not as guards at all, but as pleasant custodians in clerical robes or casual suits. They've been to graduate school where many of them mastered the techniques of friendly manipulation, always with a penetrating smile and a firm, heavy hand on the shoulder. We like them. They like us. [ANKoC, Page 31]

So in spite of your view of Mike as one of the guards, I'm wondering, if just for me, you could give him a hearing. Mike says this about your theory,

Since Brian’s entire book hinges on this Greco-Roman thesis, I need to say a few words about it.

1. Brian does not give an argument for this thesis. He simply says that it dawned on him in conversation that the traditional understanding of the biblical narrative came from the Roman Empire, which picked it up from Plato. Brian’s hubris here qualifies him for Stephen Colbert’s Alpha Dog of the Week. Brian’s entire book rests on his belief that Christians have confused the biblical narrative with Plato and Caesar, and yet he does not give an argument as to why this is so. We could just take his word for it, except that there is good reason to think that he is wrong.

2. The Christian understanding of creation, fall, and redemption differs dramatically from Plato’s pagan version.
a. Creation: the Bible says the entire world, including its physical aspect, is good. Plato taught that the material world is evil (matter is the matter).
b. Fall: the Bible teaches that our problem is moral rebellion, with ontological consequences (such as death). Plato taught that our problem is ontological (we are trapped in bodies) and epistemological (we are ignorant of our true home).
c. Redemption: the Bible teaches that salvation is moral, with ontological consequences (e.g., resurrection). Plato taught that salvation occurred through education.

At every point in the story Christian orthodoxy contradicts Plato’s narrative. So how exactly does Brian think that our story came from Plato? [emphasis in original]

Mike writes a lot more about your book at his blog. I think you might find some of it edifying even though I expect you will think him a zealot on the other side of the "us-them" barrier.

Since that first Greco-Roman Pauline comment of mine, I stumbled across this post from Nathan Gilmour. He is not a Theologian, but rather is finishing his Ph.D in English. Nathan does, however, read Hebrew and Koine Greek, which probably impacts his understanding. Nathan has a multi-paragraph response to your Greco-Roman thesis and in that he says this,

If all of that sounds familiar through the haze of misused Greek texts, it’s because the “Greco-Roman narrative” that McLaren would impose upon Plato and Aristotle (the tag team!) is far more akin to what Origen, Augustine, and other Christian writers would call the narrative of creation, fall, and redemption. Although certain iterations of that narrative sequence deserve criticism, McLaren does nobody any favors (especially those of us who love teaching Plato) by inventing a syncretic thought-system that simply does not exist in classical texts and then loading that cumbersome burden on some of Christianity’s best tutors.

You explicitly reject the creation, fall and redemption story that so many of the early Church fathers rather strongly support. You don't buy the concept of the atonement where Jesus became full payment for our sins or even full victory over the powers of darkness who enslaved us. Original sin would just seem so silly to you.

In a comment reminiscent of Penn Gillette on proselytizing, Christopher Hitchens could almost be seen responding to you in an interview for Portland Monthly with Unitarian Minister Marilyn Sewell earlier this year.

Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is a generally fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Now I'm just a simple and sinful blogger who makes my living in television production. I only have an undergraduate degree and that's from way back in the late '70's. I hated Philosophy in University and have never read Plato or Aristotle – although apparently I did have a few Platonic relationships while in University.

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My truly uneducated concern with your Greco-Roman Thesis, Brian, is where was the Holy Spirit all that time? You and your friends basically agree that the church has been off the rails since Constantine – until you all began working to put the Church back on the rails. [Warning: Sarcasm Phaser has been set to Stun.] Was the Holy Spirit on vacation? Did he have some kind of outside-of-space-and-time virus? Because according to your thesis, the Holy Spirit is strangely absent.

As I see it, when Jesus said that when He left us, He would send the Paraclete, the One who would walk beside us, the Holy Spirit, Jesus didn't mention any best-before expiration date,

"By the way friends, just so that you know, around May of 325, my Holy Spirit is going to be taking a break. I'm not sure when He'll be back. But, don't worry. He will come back."

I realize that this has become a sarcastic response and I'm sorry that I don't feel bad about that, but this is what I meant when I wrote in my previous post about you and your book, "Elvis has left the building. There's no there there." Your writing strongly suggests an ineffectual Holy Spirit. And I simply won't buy that. Rather than a low view of the Holy Spirit, it appears to be a no view of the Holy Spirit.

Now, I could continue in this vein with many of your other points but I think it all boils down to your approach to the Scriptures.

You tell us at the beginning of Chapter Six – The Biblical Narrative in Three Dimensions that you feel you have "an accidental advantage working for (you). You weren't formally trained in theology." You go on to say, "My training taught me to read for scenes and plots, not doctrines; for protagonists and antagonists; not absolute and objective truth…" I think we get the drift.

Because you've been trained to read Shakespeare you would suggest you have a better understanding of how to read the Bible. Are you really suggesting that every other Christian theologian or simple student of the Word, whether Evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, reads the Scriptures with no sense of poetry, story, narrative arc or anything else you may have been taught whilst at Graduate School at the University of Maryland? As Dr. Wittmer points out, 'every seminary of any worth teaches something called hermeneutics'. Is this not the very thing you suggest they don't?

Your "accidental advantage" leads you to insist that we have "gotten ourselves into such a mess with the Bible" that there will be "no new kind of Christianity without a new approach to the Bible." (Pg 67-68) Your solution is the Bible as Library – or may I call it, the Biblary.

Let me bring this rather long response to a close with an appeal once again to the Bishop of Durham, N.T. Wright from this paper, which was a part of the book Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible (2008 Baker Academic – Grand Rapids, MI, pages 59-71)

To say that I want to begin to address this with some remarks about Scripture and narrative may provoke a sigh from at least some dogmaticians: "That is so last century, so postliberal. They are even giving it up at Yale now. Can any good thing come out of narrative?" Well, as a reader of Scripture, I perceive that the canon as it stands not only is irreducibly narrative in form, enclosing within that, of course, any number of other genres, but also displays an extraordinary, because unintentional to every single individual writer and redactor involved, overall storyline of astonishing power and consistency. You could say, of course, that this is all due to those who chose the books and shaped the canon, but if you look at the ones they left out, you would have to say either that even if you put them all in, you would still have the same narrative or that if you put some of them in (the gnostic Gospels, for instance), you would precisely deconstruct what would still be a huge, powerful narrative and offer instead a very different one from which, ultimately, you would have to exclude more or less everything else that is there. The gnostic Gospels, if made canonical, would eventually act like the baby cuckoo in the nest, kicking out all the native chicks, but if the chicks got together where they had landed on the ground, they would still have a massive family likeness.

You cannot, in the end, take the anticanonical rhetoric of much contemporary writing to its logical conclusion without ending up having the canon again, only now as the alternative narrative. No: what we have, from Genesis to Revelation, is a massive narrative structure in which, though Paul, the evangelists, and John of Patmos are, of course, extremely well aware of the earlier parts, no single author saw the whole or knew about all its other parts. It is as though engineers from different workshops were invited to produce bits and pieces of cantilevers which ended up, when put together without the different work-shops knowing of it, producing the Forth Bridge. [emphasis added]

The Forth Bridge is magnificent – a marvellous example of man's ability to design beautiful and functional structures. Allow me to point, however, at something else we humans seem even more able to create – convoluted, structurally unsound, monuments to our own special wisdom. The Sutyagin house – a rather telling example.

Using the graphic below, may I suggest that as N.T. Wright sees the beauty of the Scriptures' construction like that of the Forth Bridge, Brian's description of the Scriptures as a library, a much more haphazard collection of stories, myths and a little bit of truth – is like that of the construction of the Sutyagin house – a house which has now been demolished.

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Let me bring this to a final end here by reminding folk that though I disagree with Brian's book vehemently – I still regard him as my brother-in-Christ, however badly mistaken his theology might be.

UPDATE: Jordon Cooper adds another post to this conversation, The Christian Book Whore.

Forgive the long title but this post has been brewing since I read Jordon Cooper's Theological Debate As Blood Sport. His post was written early in the "debate" around McLaren's new book. Jordon said this near the end of his post, in regards to the marketing of books like Brian's;

(We) have to take into account how bloggers get played by the publishing houses. In exchange for “review copies”, they get to turn us into their own personal marketing whores. You don’t think Harper Collins isn’t feeling pretty happy for the “buzz” that we generate from their free, cheaply produced review copies. We get to feel like “insiders” when we are marketing pawns, rushing to review the book on Amazon and posting the reviews on our blogs. Harper Collins (as a division of News Corp.) has an obligation to the bottom line, not to the faith. [emphasis added]

Brad Boydston, the king of great random links, wrote this last night,

BRIAN McLAREN'S new book A New Kind of Christianity is getting lots of reaction. That was certainly his goal.

I WISH that Mark Noll's book The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith would get as much attention. The whole postmodern cultural shift discussion that McLaren and the emerging folks want to lead is so insular and so Western — while so much of what is shaping the church in 2010 is so global. [emphasis added]

Jordon's point and perhaps Brad's is that we bloggers are getting played by, at the very least, the publishers and in some cases, the book authors. HarperOne (ANKoChristianity's publisher) doesn't care whether I slam or sing the praises of Brian's book. In the market place of idea-based books, any PR is good PR. In fact, they probably love that I discuss Brian's book over and against McGrath's Heresy – another HarperOne book.

Michael Hyatt, Thomas Nelson CEO sings the praises of his company's Book Sneeze program. He's got all kinds of bloggers who've signed up to be "sneezers" for Thomas Nelson.

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Their site trumpets, Booksneeze Gives (BOOKS) to Bloggers for Free. But that would be free ONLY from Thomas Nelson's perspective. Since they place ZERO value on the time of the Bloggers reading their books.

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Let's have a bit of fun with math, kids, shall we.

We will use Brian's new book as an example even though it's not a Thomas Nelson book.

ANKoChristianity is 320 pages in total length (according to Amazon.) With the preface and main body text and excluding the endnotes, index, title page, etc, the book is about 260 pages. Average word count per page is around 350 – 400 words. We will use the lower number.

Now considering that the average reading speed for an American adult is in the 200 words per minute range, with Brian's book being approximately 90,000 words – it will take the average reader about 7.5 hours to finish the book. Basically, an average working day.

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Now to get a book from Thomas Nelson, you need to promise to write a minimum 200 word review of that book and post it on your blog AND a consumer website (like Amazon). When you provide links to prove to Thomas Nelson you've done so – you get another "FREE" book.

Forgive me, but this is almost Pavlovian.

Let's say you only take 30 minutes to write your review – you've still spent 8 hours of your time on a book that publishers want you to help them market.

There is no way in the world that the real costs of the books publishers and their PR and Marketing Firms are shipping you cost more than 10 dollars including shipping (and I'm being very generous to the publishers with this figure).

Are you really willing to work for a publisher for a little over a dollar an hour?

Where I Stand on This
I remember being flattered when I was asked to join the Ooze Viral Bloggers a couple of years ago. Wow. My blog is important enough that they want to send me free books. (Gullible is my middle name.)

But the books really aren't free folks.

The expectation was that I'd read them and then write something about them – the unwritten contract. When a book Oozed it's way to me I would commit my time to reading it, shortly after it hit my doorstep – and at least say something about it. Even if the book was crap – which far too many were.

And human nature being what it is, most of us don't want to say bad things about "gifts" from anyone, even publishers – whether they're oozing or not. No doubt publishers are very aware of this basic reality of human nature. They aren't in the gift-giving business – they are in the book publishing business. As Jordon says, their bottom line is making a profit – and I do not begrudge them that.

I'm just not willing to work for them for free.

With much of this in mind, I opted out of the Ooze a year ago in terms of asking for books. (I officially asked not to receive anymore emails about the Ooze books in January.) I've never opted in to Booksneeze and won't.

With shipping and taxes, I paid just under $28CDN for McLaren's new book. I chose to spend the time I did reading the book and critiquing it – not feeling like I was beholden to the marketing efforts of the OozeTV team & Mike Morrell, HarperOne or anyone else. (BTW Mike, though I'm sure you really do like Brian's book, when you comment on people's blogs about said book, it would be good if you noted you were paid for your efforts in the Ooze viral marketing campaign for it. There probably are one or two people who don't actually know that and it could be perceived as a conflict of interest.)

I still receive the occasional email offering to send me a book. Some I accept – but with no promise to review the book one way or the other. And I mention in the review that the book was provided for free – even though there is no law in Canada to force me to do that.

But to my fellow bloggers.

Your time really is worth something.

If publishers want you to join them in their efforts to market their books – it's only fair they pay you – and that you tell us you are being paid to read and review their books.

Or.

They can ACTUALLY send you free bookswithout stipulating anything.

If the books you receive really are great, you might just write something about them.

(And can people please go read the Cluetrain Manifesto. This old school marketing stuff is getting old.)

There are some days that I wish I could be paid to blog. (I hear that laughter.) But I get paid to produce television and media content for clients. And my blogging and focus on ANKoChristianity has caused me to get rather behind on work that needs to be finished. I hope to respond to Brian McLaren's response to me in the next 72 hours – but that will depend on how much paying work I get done in that timeframe.

So.

Let me point you to a few other reviews of Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity.

Trevin Wax is simply one of the best bloggers in Christian blogdom. Gracious, scholarly and a very good writer. Though I would not share all of the finer points of Trevin's theology, I look forward to his posts showing up in Google Reader. Trevin has dome some of the very best interviews with N.T.Wright. Please read Trevin's take on Brian's book, Why Brian McLaren's New Book is Good for the Emerging Church.

I took Kevin DeYoung and his co-writer, Ted Kluck to task for their book, Why We Love the Church. Brian's book, which I would actually agree with less than DeYoung & Kluck's book, has been treated with kid gloves in comparison (by me). That being said, DeYoung has written a firm, even handed and indepth critique of McLaren's book that is a must read, Part 1 and Part 2. His paraphrase of the late Stan Grenz and Roger Olson on classic liberalism is one of the most effective moments in the review – at least for me.

Nathan Gilmour of The Christian Humanist (?) pens an interesting review as one of the Ooze Viral Bloggers. (I hope you can get a prescription for that / GRIN.) He outlines where he sees Brian getting it right, wrong & sneaky while giving the book "a nod" at the end. Nathan takes McLaren to task particularly for pitching himself as an available consultant at the end of the book. (I confess I skimmed over that in my reading.) Nathan writes,

I realize that not everybody is as suspicious of out-of-town “experts” as I am, and I’d be fine if McLaren were consistently sanguine. But as it stands, it looks like he decided to use this book, which pitches itself as a moment of honesty, as a platform to promote himself and his Emergent Village buddies while calling dedicated ordained folks prison guards, and that’s an inexcusable bit of duplicity.

Nathan may call it "inexcusable" but he still goes on to recommend we purchase the book,

…a book’s excellence lies not in its being right but in its being interesting. Given that criterion, I’d still recommend this book for folks interested in reading some philosophical-progressive alternatives to modern evangelicalism. There are some moments of sloppy thinking and others of outright self-serving dishonesty, but on balance, I can accept those sorts of things in a book that spurs me to think for a while, and I think that this book did.

Ron Cole is about 1/2 way through reading ANKoChristianity and has a generally favourable response to the book, along with a deep love for Brian himself. (That is a good thing, btw.)

Jeremy Bouma, in the process of placing Pagitt beside Pelagius and eliciting something stronger than a "hmmmm" promises to peruse ANKoChristianity and publicly place his thoughts before us. (Some people say I'm alliterate.)

And finally, as perhaps many folk who read me would not read Challies (the #1 Christian Blogger in the Universe – as far as statisticians are able to ascertain – and a near-Toronto lad to boot), Tim writes a very well written, hard and angry response to Brian's ANKoChristianity. (102 comments at this point in time)

[Humour Alert] And finally, finally (or the last word and the word after that) I have been told that there is no truth to this rumour from the future that when ANKoChristianity finally takes over;

Albert Mohler, former President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (now renamed the ANKoChristianity Southern Seminary) will still be permitted to teach. But only in German. On Thursdays. Wearing a cardigan. In a shuttered Episcopal Church. In Poughkeepsie, NY.

UPDATE: Brian McLaren graciously responds to this post and a previous couple of posts of mine. No one does gracious quite as well as Brian. (Not a snark, simply an observation and a trait of Brian's I can definitely learn from.)

This is my 2nd attempt at reviewing Brian's new book. The first was 3,000 words and I was barely half done. A good friend said, "It looks like you've begun a response to the book, Bill. I thought you were writing a review?" She was right.

Another good friend thought it might be helpful for me to turn my verbosity into questions. A good and helpful point.

So.

I'm going to ask some questions that have come up while reading Brian McLaren's new book A New Kind of Christianity, including all the footnotes. I will do my best to explain why I have those questions.

Let me begin.

Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do you say I am?" Peter's immediate response (the immediacy assumed based on his character) was "You are the Christ (the Messiah), Son of the Living God."

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Again, based on my finished reading of Brian's book, I am left with this rather uncomfortable question:

Who do you say Jesus is, Brian?

Is Jesus the second person of the Trinity, as Paul says in his letter to the Phillipians, "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!"

Or as the Nicene Creed says "the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made."

Should this not be a relatively simple question to answer? Yet it is one I am left asking after finishing Brian's book.

Here's are a few of the reasons I ask the question?

On page 118, you say;

…the character of the living God is like the character of Jesus.

And later,

When you see him, you are getting the best view afforded to humans of the character of God.

And then at the top of page 132;

And the term “Christ” or “Messiah” literally means “anointed one,” suggesting a king or leader chosen by God to – like Moses – liberate the people from oppression.

In your 28th footnote for Chapter 18, you interpret Peter in Acts 10:42-42 as "Jesus is appointed by God to be both…"

These are just a few of the places where your description of Jesus confuses me. Now, you have a Master's Degree in English, so I'm pretty sure you know what you mean. My problem is that I don't.

Is "the character of the living God" like Jesus – or is Jesus the very character of the Living God?

Is Jesus the "best view afforded to humans of the character of God" or is Jesus simply God Incarnate?

Was Jesus "chosen by God" or did Jesus choose His way as God. And if Jesus is God, how is He "appointed by God"?

In John 14:9, Jesus tells his disciples: "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father."

Is He not claiming to be God there? Or am I missing something? Or do you believe He is God and I just don't understand you? Help a brother out here.

Now it would seem that you have a problem with John 14 and the way it's interpreted as you outline in Chapter 19. Particularly John 14:6 where Jesus tells the disciples; "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."

My reading suggests that you simply dismiss what appears an obvious understanding; that Jesus is actually saying He is the Only Way to the Father.

You write that those of us who would think this do not understand that this is a preprogrammed response based on our Greco-Roman understanding. (Page 212)

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And about wrestling with that whole Greco-Roman thing. I realize that your entire thesis hangs in the balance on this, but wasn't the Apostle Paul rather Greco-Roman? I know, it's probably a weird place in my questions to ask this question, but I was thinking; Paul was a Roman citizen, who spoke Greek, was trained in the Scriptures, and in Greek thought, and Jesus chose him as the disciple to replace Judas. Right?

So, did God make a mistake? Should he have rather picked a non-Greco Roman type who could have kept the Greco-Roman wrestling out of Christianity? Perhaps Mike Wittmer deals with this better than I do, so I should probably leave that to him.

Anyway, back to John 14:6.

Your interpretation of the passage suggests that if we could only break out of our "dominant position" we would see that Jesus is simply responding to Thomas' fearful question, "Jesus where are you going?" You say he is not commenting, in one way or another, about the many different ways one might find God.

You write that for anyone to suggest that Jesus words have him claiming he is the ONLY way to the Father is "misappropriating them, twisting them, abusing them." (Page 217). Isn't that a little harsh or do you need to be harsh to get through my rather thick skull?

You seem to say that Jesus would never ever suggest that he was the only way.

Would the logical reason for that be because you don't believe he is God Incarnate? Since only God could claim to be the ONLY way. Or am I missing it again?

But what about Jesus telling the scared disciples that if they've seen him, they've seen the Father. Is that just a metaphor?

Which leads me to wonder if you agree with your friend, Marcus Borg, who you footnote a number of times in the book and talk about in your Introduction as one of the people whose "emerging mission" points toward the title of your book.

Borg sees John's Gospel as "the most metaphorical and furthest removed from the deeds and words of Jesus."

He says this about Jesus' "I am the Way statement"

…the way of Jesus is the way of death and resurrection–the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being. To use the language of incarnation that is so central to John, Jesus incarnates the way. Incarnation means embodiment. Jesus is what the way embodied in a human life looks like.

That last line sounds to me a lot like your statement that Jesus is "the best view afforded to humans of the character of God." But I probably don't understand, right? And I really don't want to suggest guilt by association. You should meet some of my friends. Oh right, you have.

And in his book, Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship (1994) Borg says about Jesus in light of that scholarship,

We are quite certain that Jesus did not think of himself as divine or as the "Son of God" in any unique sense, if at all. If one of his disciples had responded when reportedly asked by Jesus in Mark's gospel, "Who do you say that I am?," with words like those used in the Nicene Creed, we can well imagine that Jesus would have said, "What???"

Oh and Borg goes on to say that "most Jesus scholars" don't buy the Virgin Birth, the Ascension – "..there is a further reason the story cannot be taken literally, namely, one cannot imagine it happening" or that there will be a literal second coming. They do all agree that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried. (But Borg's scholarship folk don't buy the Resurrection, either.)

Are you with Borg here, or do you think he might be a tad confused?

Now, Borg's friend N.T. Wright would be one of those Jesus scholars who definitely would not agree with him. In fact, the good Bishop of Durham says this, (and I confess that I cried when I read it – at the part which I've highlighted),

Let me put it like this. In Paul (and this is really a Pauline conversation, after all), what happens is that the word of the gospel is announced. That is to say, Jesus Christ is proclaimed – one-on-one or in a large meeting or out on the street or whatever, and even though that message is crazy (and Paul knows it’s crazy; he says it’s folly to Gentiles and a scandal to Jews), some people find that it grabs them and they believe it. This is bizarre. I shouldn’t be believing this. A dead man got raised from the dead and he’s the Lord of the world. I really shouldn’t believe this, but it does make sense. And it finds me and I can feel it changing me. Paul’s analysis of that is that this is the power of the word (he has a strong theology of the word), and another equal way of saying it for Paul is that this is the Holy Spirit working through the gospel. He says, no one can say that Jesus Christ is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

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Your book suggests that N.T. Wright has greatly helped your understanding of theology, correct?

So my final question would be – Do you think Borg or Wright is correct? Wright believes in the physical resurrection and that the physically resurrected Jesus is now "the Lord of the World".

Borg, well, not so much.

One of them may be Wright – but they both can't be right!

Right?!

I just can't find the answer to these questions in your book that is all about A New Kind of Christianity.

UPDATE: Brian McLaren graciously responds to this post, my previous post on Framing the Discussion and my later post where I have Questions for him (which he responds to).

I have no time today to write a substantive review of Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity. (As an independent producer/director, I have work that needs to get finished.) So I will point you at two reviewers that I would recommend you read and some further background for the on-going discussion.

Mike Wittmer has begun a series on the book. He’s on Question 2 right now. Of course, Mike is part of the Military Industrial Complex Theological Seminary/Church Leadership Vested Interest Group (TS/CLVIG for short) and a Kuyperian, no less. You’ve been warned. 🙂 Here are direct links to his Introduction and Question 1.

The second link is to Darryl Dash in a review that is possibly stronger and more blunt than I’ve ever heard him before. He quotes Brian on the need to rethink the whole Christian enterprise,

At some point, though, more and more of us will finally decide that it would make more sense to go back and revise the contract from scratch. And that work has begun. It is nowhere near complete, but the cat is out of the bag… [emphasis added by Darryl]

And Darryl responds,

And that cat is on a tear. McLaren attempts the impossible, essentially tossing out what you always thought was true, and starting again from scratch. The Fall of Genesis 3? That’s really a coming-of-age story. The storyline of the Bible? It’s really about the downside of progress, and about how good prevails in the end anyway. The Bible is a community library, and the violent, tribal God of the Genesis flood is “hardly worthy of belief, much less worship” – but those were early days, and our view of God is always changing. Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion, nor is Christianity the answer in itself. In short, almost everything you know about God, the Bible, and Christianity is wrong, according to McLaren. [emphasis added]

McLaren is quite upfront that his theology has been powerfully informed by Harvey Cox’s The Reason for Faith and by the theology of Marcus Borg. (He identifies Borg as a fellow emergent traveller and Cox winds his way through McLaren’s footnotes.) So you might find Borg’s BeliefNet post on John 14:6 informative – as it squares with that of Brian’s understanding of the verse in ANKoC. And this will give a little taste of the theology of Cox along with this. (I confess that I find Cox’s definition of the present “Age of the Spirit” rather bizarre – as if the Holy Spirit was incapable of doing much until now. An extremely low view of the power of the Spirit I would posit.)

As pointed to in the previous post, Jeremy Bouma has begun a series that investigates and questions the theology of the Emergent Village wing of the Emerging Church. As Brian has been and still is a key leader in the theology of EV, Jeremy’s posts are important to the discussion.

I also want to point you to my friend Sonja, blogging as Calacrian, and her post from this morning that begins with a Frost poem that has been resonating of late for me, as well.

…we’ve come to a place where there are a goodly number of people who are comfortable with the way things are (or are headed) in the emerging conversation. But there are also a goodly number of people who (for a variety of reasons) are no longer comfortable with it. Me, I feel like Robert Frost standing at the two roads diverging in the woods. Do we really have to choose?

This discussion around Emergent and ANKoC is going to be hard. Lines have already been drawn. (I hear, “nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong” echoing that last sentence.)

I was awake until 4am last night struggling with this stuff. Wondering how a conversation that had begun in part about oppression had itself become oppressive – where transparency would be talked about but not practiced. Where questioners would have shame labels hung around their necks – while the questioned would play the victim card. It has begun to feel like the Twilight Zone or perhaps what my kids once called Opposites Day.

I awoke this morning to an interlocutor suggesting I was in league with Screwtape – because I dared to ask questions – of an Emergent leader.

That is the level of dis-ease in this discussion. Which extends further and deeper than the present presenting symptoms – as stories of betrayal, infidelity and coverup are woven into the very fabric of the marketing of this new kind of Emergent Christianity.

And yes, Bob, Screwtape is laughing. But at what or whom, exactly?

 

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…"

Scot responds,

…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.