“Sometime in 1994, at the age of thirty-eight, I got sick of being a pastor. Frankly, I was almost sick of being a Christian.” So begins A New Kind of Christian, Brian McLaren’s 2001 book that turns his personal crisis of faith into the fictional story of one Christian learning a new approach to the faith from another.
At first glance, this book may seem to be meant specifically for an audience of the ordained. Certainly it addresses the phenomenon of clergy burnout right from the get-go. But McLaren’s story may also sound familiar to anyone who has ever invested years of time, money, and effort in a career path, only to become disillusioned about it. It’s at this point that it becomes necessary to make a decision: keeping faking it, quit, or find a new way.
Immediately, the book addresses issues that Christians commonly face: Do I really believe? Am I only faking it? Or could Christianity really be bigger than the tiny slice I happen to have become familiar with through my own limited experiences? The answer to this third question is always “yes.” And as people now living in the “postmodern” era, it’s high time we all embraced the humility required to admit that. We all have more to learn … always. And we can all benefit from hearing the perspectives of others. This is the beginning of faith as conversation, instead of faith as mere dogma.
There’s no doubt that the primary audience of this book is people who grew up in a conservative, “evangelical” Christian tradition. But that doesn’t make the book inaccessible to those who grew up in the Episcopal Church or in other more liturgical traditions. The Church (capital c) is moving into the future as one big body, and this book can be helpful to all of us in figuring out how to do that gracefully and with increasing understanding of each other.
The members of EpiC would like to invite you to join us in reading McLaren’s book this summer. It’s a quick read; even with a busy schedule, I polished it off in a week. But I’m excited to take the summer to unpack it slowly, along with a group of young students who each come from a different perspective. Watch this space for more posts over the next three months.