FCQ 2016: Brian McLaren

Show of hands: How many of us are ready to leave Christianity?

Let me clarify: How many of us are ready to throw in the towel on the religion that raised us? How many of us are ready to give up the beliefs, actions, ideologies, and rhetoric that once seemed so constant, certain, and true?

If you raised your hand then you’re not alone. 

In 2001 I was ready to quit Christianity too. I was done with “inside the box” thinking, which was the only way I could articulate it at the time. I didn’t know what I wanted. I just knew that I didn’t like the judgment of others. I didn’t like the defense of Biblical orthodoxies over actually loving people. I didn’t like the fact that my plain reading of scripture created a belief that God actually wants some people to feel oppression and marginalization. I didn’t like the people who called themselves Christians. It seemed that Christianity was simply a way to get to heaven and to stay out of the torment of hell. I didn’t like the fact that Christians constantly talked about the freedom of Christ and the good news of the Gospel, and yet I didn’t feel like it was good news at all. I certainly didn’t feel like I had freedom.

So there I was in my rented room, which was actually a converted attic, and I sat on my mattress and called my parents. 

“I don’t think I’m a Christian anymore.” 

My parents laughed their all-knowing laugh. My father responded, “You’re a Christian. You just don’t know it yet. I just read a book by this guy named Brian McLaren. It’s called A New Kind Of Christian. I’ll send it to you.” I waited a couple of days for the book. I wasn’t at all excited to read it. Christianity had nothing for me. 

The book showed up. I walked from the mailbox back up the three flights of stairs to my attic. I opened the book and oddly enough, my life began to change. 

The honesty!

You might tell me that you have been engaging in some deep questioning and theological rethinking. You can no longer live with the faith you inherited from your parents or constructed earlier in your life. As you sort through your dogma and doctrine, you’ve found yourself praying less, less thrilled about worship, scripture, or church attendance. You’ve been so focused on sorting and purging your theological theories that you’ve lost track of the spiritual practices that sustain an actual relationship with God. You may even wonder if such a thing is possible for someone like you.

There were thoughts like this one:

Imagine if organized religion organized billions of people and trillions of dollars to tackle the challenges that our economic and political systems are afraid or unwilling to tackle—a planet ravaged by unsustainable human behavior and an out-of-control consumptive economy, the growing gap between the rich minority and the poor majority, and the proliferation of weapons of all kinds—including weapons of mass destruction. “Wow,” people frequently say when I propose these possibilities. “If they did that, I might become religious again.”

This is what matters to me! 

Aliveness, he will teach, is a gift available to all by God’s grace. It flows not from taking, but giving, not from fear but from faith, not from conflict but from reconciliation, not from domination but from service. It isn’t found in the upper trappings of religion -rules and rituals, controversies and scruples, temples and traditions. No, it springs up from our innermost being like a fountain of living water. It intoxicates us lie the best wine ever and so turns life from disappointment into a banquet.

My faith was restored. This is what I was looking for. I was on a new journey, a new path, new way of looking at Jesus, and yes, A New Kind of Christianity. It was there in the attic that I decided that I didn’t need to throw away my Christianity. I needed to redefine what it meant for me to be a Christ follower. My father was right. I was a Christian. It just took me a while to figure it out. 

And now, 15 years later, our church is on a journey to reimagine what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus. 

Frankly, there would be no Forefront without Brian McLaren. His writings are what moved me to read scripture with new eyes. It’s what led me to see Jesus in a new light. Brian McLaren’s encouragement is what led our church to embrace inclusivity and the never ending love of Jesus Christ. Brian McLaren has influenced our church profoundly.

It is my absolute honor to host Brian McLaren for our 2016 Faith, Culture, Questions series. I look forward to hearing his thoughts on the future of Christianity and the truly good news of the Gospel. I look forward to being challenged as to how our church can preach the true freedom that comes through the Gospel.

 I hope that your lives are as profoundly influenced by Brian McLaren as mine was sitting in my converted attic 15 years ago. 

Brian McLaren will be speaking during services at our Manhattan location, The Gramercy Theatre, on Sunday, November 6. Reserve your free tickets here. Brian's new book out this fall is The Great Spiritual Migration.