I finished McLaren’s second installment of his well-recieved trilogy this morning. He continues to challenge, and at the same time, shape my thinking, about my faith, and my calling to ministry.
As with A New Kind of Christian, I found The Story we Find Ourselves in quite enjoyable to read. McLaren has that way about his writing to invite you in, obliterate all that you believe, and yet not hate him. He didn’t obliterate all that I believe as he came close to in the first installment, but continues to challenge the modern matrix that has so dominated theology for hundreds of years. A new era is definitely dawning.
The story, as the first, is told from the perspective of Dan Poole as he conintues his journey of faith through the influence of the Jamaican sage Neo. Neo has been away in the Galapogos Islands for some time and has befriended a woman named Kerry. Early in the story the reader learns that cancer has appeared in Kerry’s body, and her battle brings her to the States and gives her the chance to befriend the Poole family. Kerry is a scientist working in the Galopagos Island who has lost the Christian faith of her parents long ago. Neo has helped that faith awaken in her. Her stay in the hospital and befriending of the Poole’s furthers that awakening.
Kerry’s journey of faith allows McLaren to address difficult topics such as evolution and the Bible, death and dying, eternal punishment and salvation. Each topic is addressed in a way that everyone who reads will disagree with someone at some point. Neo, with his scientific training, has found a way to embrace and even enjoy God more because of the evolutionary process. Dan is put off a bit by the ease at which he does, but leaves it at that.
The heart of the “story we find ourselves in” as told by Neo (and Dan) centers on the alliterated creation, crisis, calling, conversation, Christ, community, consumation. The telling of the story gets a little hokey at points, but for the most part, is helpful being relayed in the mist of dialogue since that is where all real theology happens anyway.
Creation – Told from the perspective of scientists, McLaren does a wonderful job of telling the story of creation (some wouldn’t be able to stomach Neo’s awe of evolution, but I found it compelling). Neo also has a very interesting take on the evolution of society described in the Genesis account – from gatherers to centralized city, the move from the fields and working directly with the land to the city where food can now be bought.
Crisis – In the midst of the creation and God’s willingness for it to evolve on its own (Neo tells that God gave the world a Big Bang which physically got things moving and metaphysically began the evoluationary process of development), and man’s evolution has always been evil. From the smallest microcasm of society to society at large, evil has always taken the head.
Calling – For reasons unbeknowst to us, God calls Abraham, and beginning with that calling, God works within his called people to bring the earth to himself. This is the series of events that have been recorded through the Old Testament journey of Israel.
Conversation – From the calling of Abraham, man’s response was pretty varied. Some followed closely and listened well, others revolted and ignored. Back and forth they went. Neo calls this fourth episode conversation. It is God’s way of working with his people to bring them back to the fold of perfection he embodies.
Christ – Of course, with Christ, everything changes. The conversation is accelerated. God himself comes and takes part in the creation. McLaren does a wonderful job of tying the incarnation to the creation – something we often overlook. Jesus could assume humanity because humanity was already created in his image.
Community – From Christ is the community of believers. McLaren’s teaching on community may come about best indrectly through the great community created within his book: Neo, Kerry, the Poole’s, Kerry’s son, and on and on it goes.
Consumation – In what is probably the most difficult (and foreign) section of the book, Neo sets for the final episode – the consummation. It comes as Kerry nears death, so the setting is perfect for what must be discussed. McLaren presents the idea of God setting the world in motion, imaging him as it evolves and develops, though he is not pushing it along to the end. Instead, Neo’s vision of the eschaton is of God in the future calling his people into the perfect image they will one day all attain. He does not push from the past, nor does he walk along side, as much as he awaits in his perfect state calling his wonderful creation to its inevitable perfect ending. I found this quote a compelling picture of heaven:
“When we get there, not only will we be what we are at that final moment, but also we will find all that we have ever been – all that God has remembered – and we will be reunited with all that we have ever been. We won’t be only the little sliver of ourselves that we are at this instand we call the present. We will be the composite of ourselves through our whole lifetime, all gathered in God’s presence, consummated, summed up, gathered in the mind and heart of God.” (152-153)
A different idea than I’ve heard before, but an interesting one for sure.
Overall, I thought this book is another helpful contribution by McLaren to the growing emergent movement. The gentleness with which he writes can be appreciated by all. His mastery of language makes so much of what he says fascinating. I loved the fact that, in the end, Dan Poole is reigned in by his governing board of directors, so that they have a chance to evaluate his theological standpoint. He had evolved siace they hired him, they claimed, and now they questioned whether he had strayed. They came short of calling him heretical, but were not sure he believed what they did. Through this relationship McLaren is illustrating that he understands the radical teaching he is bringing and how far it stems from traditional ideas about “church.”
I am excited to see how the trilogy ends, and I will be beginning the third installment The Last Word and the Word After that Tonight.
If anyone has read this book, I’d like to hear your comments about it. I found it provocative to say the least, and would love to see churches using these books in some small group Bible studies as discussion starters.