February 3, 2007

Friends in Conversation

Posted in Religion at 11:13 pm by egalitaria

I’ve had the privilege of reading through, in the last few months, excerpts of this amazing guy’s mind. His name is Brian McLaren, from the States – and has given Christianity a whole new meaning. He has cynically criticised the American model of Christianity, saying many of the things I myself have long thought. That the evangelical model the modern church is so used to, is very much a shallow and unthinking process. One that has reduced the greatness of a relationship to Steps 1, 2, 3: Believe in Jesus and you will be saved!! There’s your passport to heaven! And conveniently forget about everything else on earth.

One of the ways we can get this discussion going in Malaysia (and many of us have started already) is to come for an upcoming event on the 3rd-4th March 2007, when Brian McLaren himself will be coming to town. Check it out here.

Emergent Malaysia is the main host of the event, you can read more of the works, writings, thoughts and ideas here.

More to come soon..

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11 Comments

  1. Sivin said,

    I think Brian is a welcome self-critical voice towards American evangelicalism which often gets exported to our shores (the good, the bad and the ugly). While we are not in anyway obliged to agree with everything he says (but then when do we ever even agree with everything we say to each other?), the process of engaging in a civil, thoughtful, respectful (and hopefully theologically as well as contextually informed) conversation is an important commitment we need to have towards one another and those who would like to participate in the “emergence” of a better tomorrow for ourselves, our churches, and the societies that we live in. That’s the goal of the event in March and we’re looking forward to see what’s possible!

  2. Hedonese said,

    To be precise, i think much of mclaren’s criticisms wud hit nicely the ugly side of fundamentalism but wud be a strawman critique when levelled on evangelicals like Carl Henry, Bernard Ramm, Harold Ockenga or Francis Schaeffer… i wud love to see an intra christian dialogue which contrasts or complements the BEST from each tradition than an overfocus on the obvious, easy targets. The same applies to interfaith dialogues too, compare the BEST not the worst, ugliest in the other 🙂

  3. egalitaria said,

    hmm, that is food for thought hedonese. thanks for bringing that up. it makes it a more difficult challenge to criticise the best of evangelicals, because we have to define this first. what is really the mark of an evangelical then? can you clearly classify that?

  4. Sivin said,

    Good question Tricia. And i think there are different flavours even when it comes to UK evangelicalism, to USA evangelicalism or even Canadian Evangelicalism. This makes us wonder about our own backyard.

    Hedonese is right .. “i think much of mclaren’s criticisms wud hit nicely the ugly side of fundamentalism ” and I think that is his target group and also the lurking fundamentalism in all of us – which is very much a self-critic as someone from within – perhaps facing the ugliest in ourselves. A simple plain reading of him at least for me conveys that. Perhaps I haven’t read enough of the evangelical heavyweights mentioned above to comment on whether it’s a strawman critique on them, but my sense his “target” is the kind of “evangelicalism” perhaps in the popular imagination of most evangelicals/pentecostals/charismatics even in Malaysia.

    As for the Evangelical heavyweights, at least I remember Brian quoting very favorably of Schaeffer in his first book and at least a nuanced comment in one lecture I heard. Perhaps we can ask him about it when he’s here 🙂

    For now, I think many have tended to “strawman” Brian. And I think we can do better.

  5. Bob K said,

    .. i think much of mclaren’s criticisms wud hit nicely the ugly side of fundamentalism but wud be a strawman critique when levelled on evangelicals like Carl Henry, Bernard Ramm, Harold Ockenga or Francis Schaeffer

    I agree but I don’t see why that’s necessarily a bad idea. Fruitful dialogue already occurs among what we would term as the “best” from the various traditions. That’s one of the reasons they’re considered the “best” anyway, because of their willingness to be open and discuss issues.

    Unfortunately, in many occasions it is the worst expressions that seem to be mainstreamed. The large majority of laity and probably quite a number of clergy (irregardless of whether they would consider themselves as clergy or not) do not have the privilege to participate in the “higher” discussions at the various theological “menara gading”s and in many cases laypeople are encouraged to have an unthinking faith.

    And because these voices represent the most public face of the Church, ie. the ones that everyone else meets on a day to day basis, I see an urgency to tackle the bull by the horns and force people to think hard about what they really believe.

  6. Alex Tang said,

    “To be precise, i think much of mclaren’s criticisms wud hit nicely the ugly side of fundamentalism but wud be a strawman critique when levelled on evangelicals like Carl Henry, Bernard Ramm, Harold Ockenga or Francis Schaeffer”

    Actually I do not think that McLaren is aiming for the “ugly” side of fundamentalism as for the closing of the evangelical mind. If you wheel out the heavy artillery like Carl Henry, Bernard Ramm and Harold Ockenga, you may find that we are fighting a conventional warfare with guerilla warfare.

    McLaren is not attacking evangelicalism as a theological contruct but evangelicalism as a fossilizing institution. And he is not critiquing all of evangelicalism, only the ecclesiological portion of it and even then, a small portion in how to be a church in a changing world. In fact I believe that Carl Henry, Bernard Ramm and Harold Ockenga will have no objections if they truly understand what McLaren is doing and saying.

    As for Francis Schaefer, he would have been best with friend with McLaren because McLaren is continuing on where Francis ends.

    It is time that theologians stop spending their time defending their turfs and instead look at where the church is and think about and develop theological systems for this present age. I challenge them to move from systematic theology to systems theology. And that is no straw man.

    Blessings

  7. Sivin said,

    “Actually I do not think that McLaren is aiming for the “ugly” side of fundamentalism as for the closing of the evangelical mind.”

    Now, that broadens the conversation …Alex, you stretched me further in this discussion by introducing this dimension 🙂 I can sleep with a worthwhile seed thought which will last me quite a little while.

    Having said that, I do agree with the critique of the ecclesiological portion of our various traditions is often the starting point. And yet, we know that mere tweaking of forms won’t solve the problems. And this is where challenging the mind comes into play … which was what I was trying to allude to in my comments on “the popular imagination of most evangelicals/pentecostals/charismatics even in Malaysia.”

    “It is time that theologians stop spending their time defending their turfs and instead look at where the church is and think about and develop theological systems for this present age. I challenge them to move from systematic theology to systems theology. And that is no straw man.”

    Now that’s a challenge worth taking up … and I think the time is ripe for us to start getting our hands dirty in this “move” – not by throwing stones but by building new possibilities.

  8. Bob K said,

    Dr Tang shows why experience counts 😀

  9. alwyn said,

    cool conversation/dialogue, 🙂

    Alex, am sure we’ll look forward to a development of the idea of “systems theology” (whether online or during the McLaren event?).

  10. egalitaria said,

    See, the conversation is already starting here and in a million other little blogs. Let’s keep all these questions and statements in mind for the face-to-face. 😉

  11. hedonese said,

    I do see a lot of convergence (here’s the word again!) between Carl Henry, Bernard Ramm and Harold Ockenga and some of what McLaren is bringing out now…. engaging culture, etc… though i believe Carl Henry’s stress on propositions in theology wud ruffle some feathers, hehe….

    And ya, Bob, sure… we cud have fruitful dialogues on the ‘grassroots’ level type of Christianity (or mainstream species of it) and when we do so, we need to be clear (tat’s a charitable thing to do) tat that’s what we are talking about… and not paint with too broad a brush la… just like some ‘grassroot’ Muslims support Osama doesn’t justify us to make broad statements tat the entire ummah support his ideology, for example… though the mainstream perception is definitely worth fruiful discussions about… just keep in mind we’re talking about a cross section of evangelicalism, for example. With experience, comes subtle nuances perhaps…

    I may be wrong but for now I dun see a sharp distinction in th focus not being on “a theological construct but evangelicalism as a fossilizing institution”, in tackling the latter, you naturally have to tackle the latter… and that’s precisely wat McLaren has done for example in the dialogue w Horton etc, where talked at length abt the classical view of justification (or at least, the ‘ugly’ version of it)…. yes, he’s opening up horizons for new stuffs, (and for that we’re grateful) but that involves a LOT of deconstructing theological constructs (and here, as David Tan pointed in his blog, the devil and God are in the details) 🙂


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