Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Brian McLaren - Statements vs. Questions

I found this interview between Brian McLaren and Steven Burke on the subject of McLaren's new book.  I want to focus on a small part of what McLaren says towards the end of the interview.  The segment starts at about 7:53 but this particular quote starts at about 8:13.  He begins by explaining that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg chapel.  These were statements.  From here he explains:

"Statements can help you go from one state to another state. So from the state of being Catholic to the state of being Protestant. I don’t think any of us are interested in creating another state that creates more divisions. That’s why I’m excited about the power of questions. Questions can bring you on a new quest. Now here’s the problem. Statements can bring you to a new state. And in the process they create a lot of debate and sometimes that creates hate. We got plenty of hate and debate. But questions can lead you on a new quest which brings you into conversation which can produce friendship. And in my mind the friendship and the conversation are as important as whatever content, you know, and new ideas that people are exposed to."
This is such a tangled web it's hard to know where to start.  First, for someone who isn't interested in creating another state he's doing just that.  Implicitly he's stating "We need to go from a state of making statements to a state of asking questions."  That's the state he creates and he's attempting to move people to that state which will create divisions.  Second, questions can, and do, create just as much hate and debate as statements do.  McLaren ought to be well aware of that. 

Third, I'm growing tired, and just a bit irritated, at the notion that we're just now starting to ask serious questions.  On the back cover of McLaren's new book it says "What would Christianity look like if we weren't afraid of questions?"  Has anybody read any church history?  Are we seriously going to consider that Origen, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Cyril of Alexandria, Tertullian, Gregory the Great, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Clement of Alexandria, Jerome, Anselm, Athanasius, Augustine, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jacob Arminius, John Hus, John Knox, Blaise Pascal, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, John and Charles Wesley, B. B. Warfield, Karl Barth, C. S. Lewis and thousands of others have been afraid to ask questions?  And these are the ones who stayed within the pale of orthodoxy.  What of those who asked questions and ventured into a more liberal track?:  G. W. F. Hegel, Paul Tillich, Rudolph Bultmann, Soren Kierkegaard, Walter Rauschenbusch, Albert Schweitzer, Thomas Altizer, Jurgen Moltmann, Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, Harry Emerson Fosdick to name only a few.  These men were certainly not afraid to ask questions.  They were unsatisfied with traditional Christianity and moved away from it as a result of asking questions. 

The unfortunate fact is that too many believers have had their questions squelched by well intentioned but poorly trained pastors who not only did not have good answers to the questions but even worse did not know where to direct them to find answers.  The answers they did provide were too often canned and unsatisfying.  When the questions persisted the questioner was often scolded for doubting and questioning the faith.  I'll grant this.  But let's not fool ourselves into thinking the questions haven't already been asked and answered by many, many who have gone before us.   

Finally, friendship and conversation are important.  But the early church fathers saw the serious consequences of heresy on the health of the church and the individual believer.  It was their love for the well-being of the church that prompted them to fight false beliefs.  Beliefs have consequences.  McLaren seems to make conversation in and of itself of equal value regardless of the content.  But a conversation with my doctor about our favorite coffee and my lab results are not equal.  McLaren acknowledges this in this interview because he says too many people in his Q&A sessions want to talk about his view of the atonement rather than the global crisis we are facing.  Why should this bother him if conversation and friendship are just as important as the content?  He should be glad someone wants to converse with him about whatever content is important to them.  I don't intend this to be sarcastic.  I'm just asking some questions.     

UPDATE:  For whatever reason I can't get the full video to show up on this post so I'll just provide the link.  It is Theooze.tv.  It is the feature called Brian McLaren - Navigating through a New Kind of Christianity.

1 comment:

Paul said...

It's all about the "new quest," the "new state," [and again] the "new quest," or the "new ideas" (these are just from the quote you provide. That's what McLaren is so good at: Creating a winsome appeal for novelty while generating an implicit disdain for all things traditional, historical, and orthodox.

Sad that he builds on the discontentedness of many in our culture.