Friends 2007: Introducing Brian – the writer II [17]

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One thing I liked about the NKOC series is the cover art and design of the books. Especially this one I like the feel of “movement” and heading somewhere by the characters running at the side.

Now back to the second book in the NKOC series. While it was not as an engaging page turner like the first book. I found the attempt at re-telling the Gospel in a fresh articulation helpful… Scott Pederson, who is pastor of the Greenwich Vineyard in London, put together this retelling of the biblical story for based on Brian McLaren’s book here in The story… we find ourselves in and here’s a helpful Course outline (originally written for teenagers)

Now, back to the preface:

“I started getting nervous when A New Kind of Christian was released. I’m not temperamentally a controversalist, not polemical, not a fighter. I don’t like arguments, especially religious ones. (Among other things, in religious arguments I find myself becoming a worse kind of Christian.) … I hoped that the book would quietly find its way into other hands where its main effect would be to inspire hope rather than stir contention. I suspected that there are a lot of “Dan Pooles” out there — people who love and seek God but feel that something in the way we’re “doing Christianity” is not working.”, p. ix

As for “Dan Poole” the character, for me I think as a pastor I related with him partly because as one of the main characters especially one who is asking a lot of the hard questions he was one too. So, it was more than “people who love and seek God ..” , it was also “pastors who love and seek God (and serve God!)” too… very often people do not know what are the inmost thoughts, struggles and battles of doubts and questions pastors genuinely wrestle with.

As for controversy, well time has proven that the “unintended consequences” are part and parcel of the package no matter how much we try to focus on “inspiring hope” and attempting to move us along forward in the way we perceive is best. Listening to Brian’s talk (mp3) at the recent National Pastors Convention 2007 in the USA gave me some insight into how he deals with it as well as inspired me to keep a watch on my own response.


“With all my ambivalence about the term postmodern, I have always been clear that my confidence was in the Christian gospel (appropriately understood), not in any cultural framework, whether modern, pre-m or post-. The more I have written about postmodernity (and so on), the more I have wanted to get to the point where it no longer needed to be written about so much, I wanted to start writing more directly about the Christian gospel itself, from the vantage point within the emerging culture, without always having to describe, validate, and defend the vantage point.

… Someone might argue that one’s goal as a Christian should not be to describe the gospel from the vantage point of a cultural matrix, but rather to describe one’s cultural matrix from the vantage point of the gospel. To do justice to that critique, however,would force me back into the old territory of a conversation that I am trying to extend into new territory. so, I’ll have to leave that conversation for readers to imagine on their own, indulging myself only in this short bit of wisdom from Lesslie Newbigin: “We must start with the basic fact that there is no such thing as a pure gospel if by that is meant something which is not embodied in a culture. … Every interpretation of the gospel is embodied in some cultural form.” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 1989), p. x (underlined emphasis mine)

it’s not an easy distinction to make and yet it’s an important one. Taking and listening to culture seriously while keeping a self-critical eye, does not necessarily mean one is on the slippery slope sliding away from the Gospel. It just makes us more self-aware and open to understand our environment and unseen influences better. Spinning in circles with cultural analysis or paralysis of course becomes an unhealthy sport if unchecked. What’s important is to be “centered” again and again to confidence in the Christian Gospel which we are always in progress of making sure we understand it appropriately and are willing to live by it faithfully!

My first introduction to a more “contextual” approach to theology was during those Asian Theology classes where a whole new world was opened before my eyes. Both the frustrations and well as a hope towards a better construction and articulation of theologies which not only arises from engagement with culture and context but also theologies which ultimately serves the church and blessed the world. And this is not confined to academic elitist exercises, it needs to resonate with people who don’t speak such long syllable jargon, and hard to follow paragraphs. There is surely a place for that kind o exercise as long as we do not despise the poetic, the pictorial, and even the playful – and surely not despise the theology acted out in prayer!

“… in these dangerous times, our whole planet now needs more than ever a good story to live in and to live by. There are a number of stories competing for the hearts and imaginations of humanity as we emerge together into this new century and millennium: the regressive stories of fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity, or the progressive stories of secular “scientism” or American consumerism, for example. Once taken to the heart of human culture, each of these stories will produce its own kind of world. If the story explored in this book (or something like it) wins enough hearts, yet another kind of world will emerge. The story we believe and live in today has a lot to do with the world we create for our children, our grandchildren, and our descendants one hundred thousand years from now (if?)”, p. xii

I confess, it’s painful and sometimes one feels powerless when right before our eyes we see people buying into regressive stories which appears to promise them 101 successes and a dreamlike paradise. Painful because nightmares are around the corner, powerless because it’s hard to get through to them with the liberating story of the Christian gospel … it’s very competitive … the lies and illusions are real .. the distracting self-talks and noises in our head are hard to be silenced so we can truly hear again … and yet, we need to hear the liberating story somehow … it needs to, it can, it will breakthrough to us …

I’m glad the messengers of this Good news did not give up in history, and even today a midst many challenges they persist.

“Neo and friends raise and ponder what may seem to you dangerous questions and dangerous answers in the pages that follow. Please do not assume that their answers are always mine, you may, however, safely assume that I think that all their questions and answers deserve consideration. If you are dissatisfied with some of the answers you find here (as I am), there’s a good chance you’re right. So I hope that you’ll use your dissatisfiction constructively and attempt to articulate better answers yourself. I’ll continue to try to do the same thing. Let’s be respectful colleagues, not critical adversaries.”, p. xiii

The last 7 years especially has been quite a ride in efforts to “use my dissatisfaction constructively and attempt to articulate better answers myself”. It takes one to a variety of routes which sometimes scares my wife as much as it scares myself. But thankfully, our lives are not confined merely to such endeavors … there;s also the daily grind of raising up kids, learning to live as husband and wife, figuring out what’s the best budget for the Chinese new year reunion dinner. And then there is the stuff we engage in whether or not we have everything sorted out theologically – corporate and personal worship, solutude, silence, fasting, encouragement, study, celebration, prayer, meditation, etc. Living the life through the peaks and the pits (someone told me they keep hearing armpits when I say that word *smile*) and the plain ordinary seconds and minutes … does not require having all the details neat and tidy … in the midst of our mess we still trip over meaning …

The joy is when there are friends who will hear us when we’re fumbling along the way (the bonus is to actually have mentors and even pastors who will do that too) … celebrate our discoveries, cautiously and respectfully correct us when we’re off track (or offer alternative views) and all in all … stick with us through thick and thin. I like the title of the book it’s not “the story I find myself in” it’s THE STORY WE FIND OURSELVES IN!

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