I met Brian McLaren once.
Years ago when A New Kind of Christianity was THE most talked-about Christian book of 2010, I heard that he was going to speak at an Episcopalian church here in Easton, MD. At that time I was doing my Coffee Chats podcast, so I thought, "Hey, why don't I interview Brian for the podcast during his time here on the Delmarva Peninsula?" I emailed him and we set up the interview for Good Friday, a few weeks before he came to Easton. The interview went well, and we started exchanging emails. I sent him a post I wrote about the future of the Emergent Church, and he really liked it.
On the night of his speaking engagement here in town, I went with open ears, absorbing everything he said. After the program a group of people lined up to say hello to Brian. He must have remembered seeing my picture on my blog, because as soon as it was my turn, Brian said to me, "And you are . . . ?"
Ermahgerd, he recognizes my face! His eyes lit up as soon as I introduced myself. We chatted for a minute, and he said how much he liked the blog post I sent him. I said I was nervous that he might have thought I was way too naive. Brian said, "Well, Travis, it's all a process. Keep up the good job!"
Now that I've shared that story, let's talk about his latest book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?
I was skeptical at first simply because of how long the title is. But the book actually exceeded my expectations. Being the button-pusher he is, this time Brian asks one of the toughest questions ever: "How can Christian maintain a strong Christian identity in a religiously pluralistic world?" According to Brian, Christians have usually answered this question in one of two ways:
1). Be extremely hostile to people of other religions to the point of making "the other" our enemy.
2). Downplay their Christian identity in order to appease others.
Brian, on the other hand, proposes a third way:
. . . a Christian identity that is both strong and kind. By strong I mean vigorous, vital, durable, motivating, faithful, attractive, and defining--an authentic Christian identity that matters. By kind I mean something far more robust than mere tolerance, political correctness, or coexistence: I mean benevolent, hospitable, accepting, interested, and loving, so that the stronger our Christian faith, the more goodwill we will feel and show toward those of other faiths, seeking to understand and appreciate their religion from their point of view. (page 10)
From there, Brian points out the various ways Christians have failed at being hospitable to not only people of other religions, but people in general throughout history. "[W]hat we call Christianity today has a history, and this history reveals it as a Roman, imperial version of Christianity." (84) The first step, according to Brian, is to acknowledge Christianity's history of violence and marginalization. The second is to take a look at the ways we have (mis)interpreted Christian doctrine.
A common theme in Brian's books is how Christians have misunderstood the Bible and Christian doctrine. We've used doctrines like the Trinity and original sin to create a barrier between us (the Christians) and them (everyone else). In this book, Brian shows how shedding a new light on Christian doctrine and practice can dramatically create both a stronger Christian identity and more hospitality to people of difference beliefs.
If you're a long-time Brian McLaren fan, this book will NOT disappoint you. If you're new to McLaren, this is a good place to start.