Dialogue for Dummies!

I’ve always appreciated Brian McLaren’s Conversational tone & dialogical approach in the way he speaks and writes. We need more of that in Malaysian Christianity to move forward. I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of hours just listening to and talking with two “younger” men yesterday on a number of issues close to our hearts. I was “nourished”, “energized” and “encouraged” to grow more as a person as well as a pastor!

Here’s 3 samples that struck me from McLaren’s Dialogue Page on his Website.

Liberalism
My senior pastor said that you are liberal. Is that true?
Thanks for checking.

“Liberal” and “conservative” represent two ways of being Christians in the modern era, and since I believe we are moving beyond the modern era, I am not very excited about either label. I’m much more excited about a convergence that is beginning to occur – bringing post-liberal and post-conservative Christians together in exciting new ways.

Sometimes, for conservatives who don’t understand the postmodern transition that I write about in my books, anyone who isn’t conservative (which means “good” to them) is automatically considered liberal (which means “bad” to them). My guess is that this is why your senior pastor said what he did. You can assure your senior pastor that I am a committed follower of Christ, deeply rooted in the Scriptures, engaging in mission and ministry, and that I am deeply grateful for my conservative Christian heritage.

You could also let him know that I love and respect both conservatives and liberals, and I know that each group has its own problems and challenges, and I do all I can to be of help and encouragement to each. I hope this will not leave me in a “bad” category for him, or for you.

Rumors
I heard a rumor that you are a universalist. I thought I’d check out the rumor before I passed it on.
Thanks for checking! The last thing we need is more rumors flying, whether about me or someone else. About universalism …

In a few of my books, I describe three responses to the question, “Who benefits from the grace of God in Christ?” Exclusivists say that only confessing, believing, committed Christians benefit. Universalists say that everyone benefits, regardless of their current faith or lack thereof. Inclusivists say the grace of God may extend beyond those who are identified as Christians, but do not wish to define how far.

I find it hard to choose any of these options because I don’t like how this question is framed, because it seems to assume that the primary focus or benefit of the gospel is saving individuals from hell after death. As I read the gospels, the focus of Jesus’ message was not on getting your soul into heaven after death, but rather it focused on the kingdom of God, which is about God’s will being done on earth as in heaven in history, in this life. For Jesus then, the gospel is good news not just for a few individuals beyond history, but it is good news for all creation in history, and beyond. I plan to grapple with this subject in more depth in the third in the “New Kind of Christian” trilogy.

I feel about universalism much the way I feel about pacifism: followers of Christ, if they aren’t pacifists, should be pacifist sympathizers – hoping that even if pacifism isn’t true yet, it will be someday. Similarly, if universalism isn’t true, nobody should be happy about it, but should wish that it could be true. After all, Scripture tells us, God doesn’t wish for anyone to perish, but wants all to come to the knowledge of the truth. Similarly, Paul felt anguish about his unconvinced neighbors, and like Moses he preferred that he be rejected rather than his companions. This is the attitude I hope I can have as I approach this question.

The traditional exclusivist doctrine of hell often (not always) becomes the tail that wags the dog (or the dog becomes a walking, barking tail), creating a callous superiority among some (not all!) of its adherents; people think and speak of their “unsaved” neighbors in ways far different from Paul, Moses, or Jesus. That kind of callous hellfire talk cheapens life, betrays the gospel, and makes any alternative look better and better.

But once again, I think that the question that universalism, inclusivism, and exclusivism answers is not framed wisely, and so I would rather focus on other – to me, better – questions, at least for now.

Talking About Postmodernism
I’m a seminary student. Your books have really helped me. How will I talk about the issues of postmodernity with “normal” folks – once I’m outside of seminary? How do you do this?
A short answer – it depends.

With unchurched people in my area – so many of them are postmodern already, so with them, I can just talk about the gospel and life and God in their native language (rather than having to “speak modern” and then translate, or talk about postmodern language and thought patterns). In other words, with them, postmodernity isn’t the issue. (I talk about this in More Ready Than You Realize.)

With churched modern folk – it’s a whole different story. With many of them, it’s not even worth trying to change their thinking. In some cases, I think it would damage their faith to try to do so; their faith and modernity are so entwined that to challenge one is to challenge the other. With these people, I think we need to keep Romans 14-15 in mind. I try to bless them in whatever way I can without tweaking their thinking too much.

With some churched modern folk – especially a) those who care about evangelism, b) those who have sons and daughters who have left the church, c) pastors and denominational officials who feel that what they’re doing isn’t working – I find a lot of receptivity. They realize the modern approach is losing ground wherever you have pluralism (in the sense of people of different cultures mixing) and higher levels of education, and they are often grateful for help in understanding what’s going on.

With unchurched modern folk – I would seek to practice good missiology and speak of God, life, gospel in their native language, just as with #1. I hope that helps!

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