Tuesday, April 05, 2005

McLaren Triology

Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian triology is complete with the publication of The Last Word and the Word after That: A Tale of Faith, Doubt, and a New Kind of Christianity.

Here is the product description:

For all those seeking more authentic ways to hold and practice Christian faith, Brian McLaren has been an inspiring, compassionate—and provocative—voice. Starting with the award-winning A New Kind of Christian, McLaren offered a lively, wide-ranging fictional conversation between Pastor Dan Poole and his friend Neil Oliver as they reflected about faith, doubt, reason, mission, leadership, and spiritual practice in the emerging postmodern world. That conversation widened to include several intriguing new characters in the sequel, The Story We Find Ourselves In, as Dan and friends continued to explore faith-stretching themes from evolution to evangelism, from death to the meaning of life. Now, in this third installment of their adventures, Dan and his widening circle of friends grapple with conventional Christian teachings about hell and judgment and what they mean for our relationship with God and each other. Is there an alternative to the usual polar views of a just God short on mercy or a merciful God short on justice? Could our conflicted views of hell be symptoms of a deeper set of problems – misunderstandings about what God’s justice and mercy are about, misconceptions about God’s purpose in creating the world, deep misgivings about what kind of character God is and what the Christian gospel is for?

And here is Publisher Weekly’s review:

Pastor Dan Poole returns with another personal and theological crisis in this final installment of McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian trilogy, which again features fictional characters engaged in nonfictionish theological dialogue. This time around, Poole has been granted an extended leave of absence from his conservative church as it investigates what it believes to be his liberal theological leanings, especially regarding the doctrine of hell and salvation. In rather predictable fashion, Poole finds himself questioning his own beliefs about hell and God’s goodness, and just as predictably, Poole’s friend Neo gently shepherds Poole away from the traditional doctrine of hell by pointing out that salvation is not just an individual matter but a communal one as well. Once Poole reaches some personal level of understanding about these doctrines through his reading, the church committee miraculously clears him of all charges and, after some emotional meetings, asks him to return to the pulpit. In the end, Poole finds comfort God’s goodness and love, but by then readers may have been disappointed by the book’s flimsy characters and simplistic insights. Although McLaren has justly earned a reputation for provocative postmodern theological observations, this doesn’t live up to his standard. (Apr.) (Publishers Weekly, March 28, 2005)

Here are some endorsements:

"Brian McLaren has written a remarkable book on hell and the grace of God. And it is one hell of a book! The book is a narrative account, offered in a winsome conversational mode, that traces his thinking from a flat, closed, literalistic notion of God's wrath to a relational articulation of alienation and reconciliation. McLaren's work will be of immense help to those who are rethinking fundamentalist, literalistic ways of God that, in his judgment, have little to do with the Bible itself. The last word in the horizon of this book is hell, taken as ultimate divine punishment. The pastoral power of this book is that after that word, there is still the word of divine grace and forgiveness that overrides all the threat. This is a bold book that evades none of the hard questions. It evidences yet again why McLaren is an emerging voice to be taken seriously concerning new modes of church and new practices of faith."
--Walter Brueggemann, minister, United Church of Christ; professor, Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia

"With the passion of a Reformation broadside, Brian McLaren's The Last Word and the Word after That goes for popular Christianity's theological jugular: hell and damnation. Pained by a corrupted gospel that promotes exclusion, oppression, and violence, McLaren's fictional Pastor Dan deconstructs dangerous understandings of eternal life and points toward the joy-filled possibility of Christian community shaped by a radical biblical vision of God's love and justice. In a time when some churches have been co-opted by fundamentalist political-theologies, this prophetic tale of a new kind of Christianity serves as a much-needed challenge and corrective."
--Diana Butler Bass, author, Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community

"This is a book that heightens the depths and deepens the peaks. Like all the best things in life, it is not to be entered into lightly, but reverently and in the fear of a God who is waiting for the church to stop asking WWJD, "What would Jesus do?" and start asking WIJD, 'What is Jesus doing?'"
—Dr. Leonard Sweet, E. Stanley Jones Chair in Evangelism, Drew University, and author of Post-Modern Pilgrims, SoulSalsa, SoulTsunami, and AquaChurch

Chapter 2 can be read online.