Thursday, September 04, 2008
Adventures in missing the point
I was reading fiction for awhile but then I started missing reading my books that make me think. I didn't have any recommendations to go on, so I just aimed and shot. I came up with the McKinley book "Jesus in the Margins" because what he writes is pretty reliably easy to digest, and typically interesting enough. I had just gotten off of trying to read the New Conspirators by Tom Sine. I made it like to page 60 something and while he wasn't saying anything that I strongly disagreed with, he was just had some ideas that I was having trouble stomaching.
So this here is the next foray, and I guess even though sometimes McLaren will say something that makes me want to be critical of him, more often than not I appreciate what he says, that he says it, that he is even thinking about it, and that he writes so well on the subject, he makes me think more and well, that's what I want.
It's interesting because by and large he is talking about directions and misdirections the church has taken. Points where we might have gotten a little lost. I am not enough of an expert to speak coherently whatsoever about the topic, in public at least. The book has generated several really good conversations at our house though, and here's what is coming out...
Postmodernism, McLaren says, looks like premodernism. There is more stress on experience, beauty, mystery and I might describe it as what things look and feel like rather than what they are. McLaren says that in modern times, particularly in apologetics christians were very interested in proving things, evidence, making a case and generally using a very rational approach to showing why the bible was credible.
In that time, I say, how the church looked and felt was like a judgemental somewhat self absorbed older brother or sister who were more focused on the appearance of success and making proclamations about what was ok and not, like homosexuality and rock music and the like. We had some bad mouth pieces, and on the popular culture way, they did us some harm. The way the church looked and felt was not a place that the postmodern gen wanted to find itself. So postmodernism starts to go back to creating a Christianity that is less focused on proving things but is more toward beauty and goodness. I dare to say, a Christianity that is authentically attractive for those who want to pursue the teachings of Christ.
He brings out somethings that Christians today do and practice but that were never a part of the bible explicitly, like the sinners prayer. Some may not matter but some may, as a raft of things get tagged on to our beliefs, where a verse here or there is explored so deeply that it starts to get perhaps overly emphasized. For example, in the churches I went to, there was this big thing about spiritual gifts. You were supposed to serve according to your spiritual gifting. 1 Corinthians 12:7 talks about them. My problem was that I never had a clue what my gifting might have been. Even if I did, I wasn't sure if limiting my service to that area was really what was the direction that people should be guided. It seemed to me like a tool that could easily be used by people to do little or nothing, because they didn't know what their gifting was. So since I wasn't alone, the church started helping people to figure out their spiritual gifts with inventories and questionnaires.
I don't mean to pick on the guy that came up with this idea, its not the only thing that has gotten alot of attention in the American church there are also angels, the prosperity doctrine, speaking in tongues, and a whole raft of aberrations by which people can get sidetracked if they spend too much time emphasizing the importance (or in some cases believing at all like the prosperity doctrine). But it was the kind of thing that made me scratch my head and wonder "Explain to me again how this is germane to me following the teachings of Christ?"
McLaren writes in such an easy to take style, I could take some lessons from him. He is critical without typically criticizing. He analyzes or shines a light on things without being radically and violently iconoclastic. He is knowledgeable enough to challenge me, and yet I never feel like I am supposed to believe everything he has to say.
It used to be that this stuff might not interest me, that I would feel like overly looking at these things would be missing the point in itself. But I think differently now. I am aware that the church is viewed as not the kind of place people view as a respite from the world, but rather a place they would never want to lay their sins down because too often it is where they would be judged by the ones who think they don't have sin. The church too often is a place that is misrepresented. I want to see how I can avoid doing that as well, and I suppose a little awareness is a good place to start. I appreciate this book for that...go read it!