Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Brian McLaren's hope

It’s hard not to feel the sense of anticipation in the crowd during the last 2 days with Brian McLaren. No doubt some of us were all ears listening out for key points that might well raise red flags. But there was little or hardly any controversy. There was nothing really new to my mind, possibly because some of us have been around, read some books, lived through the throes of liberal theology, hung out with McGavran (for which we still suffer from a hangover), surfed the Third Wave. In fact, not too long ago, the late Schaeffer asked if the Church had a future in the book,The Church at the end of the 20th Century. Not surprisingly, he pointed to orthodoxy, a genuine relationship with Jesus, compassion and community, as key.

You could say McLaren is restating the same truths for our postmodern generation. Except that the man has a knack for the incendiary. Just as well I suppose, because his books made a lot of people sit up.

Not at the recently concluded seminar however. Then, the messages were 'tame'; provocative only in the way he gently dusted off cobwebs that have settled on our ideas of Church. The only thing I suspect that was a mite too unsettling was his "al-Queda" analogy to the empire language of Jesus - but only if taken out of the larger context of his talk.

I loved the TV-style forum. On stage with “the usual suspects” (as some noted) the conversations were largely amiable, and notable in its ecumenical consensus. Dr Herman Shastri of CCM had a story about a former boy soldier from Liberia who makes crucifixes out of spent shells, and that moved me deeply. Some questions from the floor had a jagged edge I dare say, but then no blood was drawn.

My own take is that McLaren has brought a global perspective to the fore in his explication of the Kingdom of God. Which always merits a hearing, familiar as it is to some of us old fogies. It’s something that has to be said more often. But what if people do not want the Kingdom, but a passport to heaven - which may explain why the Church is in the state she is in today.

Yet I also sensed a bit of self-flagellation (unconscious perhaps?) in remarks about the Church losing her way. In our small group discussion, someone said something like Christianity indeed has done so much that’s wrong "especially to Muslims, and let’s admit it.” It made me wonder if the little that was mentioned about the Church’s failures ought not to have been balanced against all the positive things that God has graciously done through her in spite of everything. So many of our young people and adults know too little about church history they throw the baby out with the bath water, no thanks to the media.

Nevertheless there’s a stirring, as I mentioned to Sivin when some of us met for a sort of debriefing and dinner with McLaren on Monday. Cool! There we were, followers of Christ from so many different churches, sharing, talking – fellowshipping - which pleased me no end. We nodded with agreement when someone spoke up that such a gathering would have been inconceivable in Malaysia 20 or 30 years ago. Isn't that a quiet revolution of hope?

We may have tried to make people ‘nice’ – quiet citizens of their earthly kingdoms and energetic consumers in their earthly economies – but we didn’t fire them up and inspire them to invest and sacrifice their time, intelligence, money, and energy in the revolutionary cause of the kingdom of God. No, too often, Karl Marx was right: we used religion as a drug so we could tolerate the abysmal conditions of a world that is not the kingdom of God. Religion became our tranquilizer so we wouldn’t be so upset about injustice. Our religiosity thus aided and abetter prople in power who wanted nothing more than to conserve and preserve the unjust status quo that was so profitable and comfortable for them.

What would happen, I wonder as I sit in the light of the glorious stained-glass windows of a cathedral in Prague or Vienna or London or Florence, if we again tasted the good news of Jesus – not as a tranquilizer but as a vibrant, potent new wine that filled us with joy and hope that a better world is possible? What if, intoxicated by this new wine, we threw off our inhibitions and actually began acting as if the hidden but real kingdom of God was at hand?

Brian McLaren (The Secret Message of Jesus)

More reports and loads of pictures on Friends in Conversation at Sivin's, Alwyn's, and Dr Alex Tang's. Now these guys really know how to cook, so go there for a blow-by-blow account.


AlwynLau said...

Hi David, great to read your post and it was real nice chatting with you (standing up!) during the first session! :)

i agree in that there an 'unspoken' (or just barely so) hope that some of the more controversial elements would be raised...still, i suspect McLaren wanted to get down to the 'forward-looking' stuff, knowing as how sometimes we can get bogged down with clarifications, counter-arguments, argumentative spirals, etc.

on the other hand, i for one found his message quite 'revolutionary', as in i really REALLY wished some of my church ppl were there to listen and take heart.

looking fwd to more conversations.

David BC Tan said...

Hi Alwyn, thanks for visiting. As a matter of fact I happen to agree that the meetings would not be the best place for deep theological discussions. If as so many were saying that if we follow Grenz/Olson's spectrum and see McLaren's contribution as pastoral instead of professional/academic, there's a lot to glean from the proceedings. On the other hand, I subscribe to Packer's dictum that theology is for doxology and as important as it may be - no less for ministerial functions. so we can all agree to disagree.

I also thought that more people ought to hear what McLAren had to say too, and I wondered if that ought to include more pastors from megachurches (or were they there/represented?) But I do know what I am going to do soon - work thru Secret Message in a study group...

Glad to have met up.