Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices

By Brian McLaren, 216 pages hardcover, Thomas Nelson.

Following current evangelical Protestant thinking, McLaren boldly challenges us to shake off the old cobwebs of churchiness and to find new life and zest for Christ. This is one book in a new series that explores ancient Christian practices.

Evangelical Protestants, always on the prowl for new techniques or approaches to things, are taking the most interesting approach here, in talking about tradition, including something called “neomonasticism.” McLaren consistently refuses to put himself into any sort of box, and borrows from Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal (as he puts them) Christians.

This eclecticism comes off as a bit airy at times, which doesn't help the author's case, given that he's talking about reforming the church. He rejects the mushy vagueness of liberal Christians, who are on their last 2 legs anyway. What he fails to do is clearly show where he is. He is all over the Christian map. This is something we have seen before with the New Age crowd (as well as from those mushy liberals), who pick and choose and really just end up confusing everyone, most of all themselves.

Perhaps Finding Our Way Again reflects the fact that American Protestants are confused at the present. McLaren fears institutional religion, which means that, like many evangelicals, he is dooming himself to wander the spiritual paths of Christianity like a confused ghost, stopping here and there, but never able to set anchor. Perhaps this is the defining spirituality and tradition of evangelicals.

McLaren uses fancy though predictably empty ideas to hide the fact that he has built his house on sand, not rock. The author wants Christianity as a way of life, not “a system of belief”; reintegration rather than confrontation in the science versus religion debate; a “fusion of the sacred and the secular”; “an everyday sacredness”; “spirituality”; and “a life-giving alternative to secularist fundamentalism and religious fundamentalism.” These expressions sound like the mutterings of 1970s mischievous Catholic priests whose misreading of Vatican II really helped no one. The author, as though we haven't known this for decades, notes a dissatisfaction with “premodern religion, institutional religion, and modern secularism.” Like everyone, he knows the problem, but like most writers, he hasn't found any real answer.

Finding Our Way Again shows us that pick-and-choose Christianity is alive and well, not only among liberal Christians, but among evangelicals. Rather than respecting the Christian tradition, McLaren's work is one more example of Christian disengagement from it.

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