Friends 2007: Introducing Brian – the writer III [16]

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A friend told me I’m starting to sound like Brian McLaren’s press secretary with this series of posts. 🙂 Well, the initial impetus was more of introducing him as a friend to those coming (or considering coming) for the Friends in conversation 2007 event.

Gradually, it became like some lite book reviews which is more of book reflections. And now, it’s evolved more like what has been resonating in my own thinking plus new directions I had not explored. I confess framing it more personal as introducing a person is more appealing to me than just talking about a book … less detached, more real.

Ok and now on with it …

The New Pantagruel posted up Who Has the Last Word? An Interview with Brian McLaren in response to the book. I think it’s useful because it’s not in fiction form 🙂

“I believe that God is good. No thought I have ever had of God is better than God actually is. True, my thoughts — including my assumptions about what good means — are always more of less inaccurate, limited, and unworthy, but still I am confident of this: I have never overestimated how good God is because God’s goodness overflows far beyond the limits of human understanding.”, p. xi

somehow Anselm keep popping into my mind. This Saint Anselm piece is will stretch one even more.

Good and Goodness … and God – worthy to invest time in contemplation! This is even more important and counter-cultural when everything around us seems to be collapsing!


“As I see it, more significant than any doctrine of hell itself is the view of God to which one’s doctrine of hell contributes. William Temple once said that if your concept of God is radically false, the more devoted you are, the worse off you will be. So this book is in the end more about our view of God than it is about our understanding of hell. What kind of God do we believe exists? What kind of life should we live in response? How does our view of God affect the way we see and treat other people? And how does the way we see and treat other people affect our view of God?”
, p. xii

This way of framing the question does good for the popular mind. We tend to over-focus on one aspect while missing the bigger picture when trying to talk about doctrines and dogma. So often our discussions feels either the sharing of our ignorance (or misinformation) or a display of our intellect and education without making the needed connection to the personal God whom we claim to believe.


“Is there a better alternative to either of these polarities: a just God without mercy for all or a merciful God without justice for all? Could our views of hell (whichever extreme you choose) be the symptoms of a deeper set of problems — misunderstandings about what God’s justice is, misunderstandings about God’s purpose in creating the world, deep misunderstandings about what kind of person God is?”
, p.xiii

When one is served a series of questions in consecutive order and well crafted questions, it feels like something is digging deeper. Strange but this is one process which helps us to add depth in our capacity to handle more complex and complicated issues which bug us.

I’ve always found 2 important dimensions in my own pilgrimage (1) Learning “new” language or “vocab” to help me have tools to describe what’s bugging me (2) A good set of questions to poke me in directions which I might have missed if left to my own devices!


“I am not a fan of controversy. As a pastor, “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is a precious thing to me; no one should disturb the peace unadvisably or lightly. I would prefer that my books be banned than have them cause destructive conflict in churches or trouble for pastors, who face enough problems without needless controversies being stirred. I would not go down this road at all if I did not feel, deep in my soul, that the issues raised here need to be raised for at least some people to consider, for the good of the individuals who seek God, for the good of the church in all its forms, and for the good of the world at large. It is my belief, hope, and prayer that any short-term controversy will lead to longterm benefits that are truly worthwhile.”
, p. xiv

This truly is not an easy path to walk … it’s kind of carrying a cross. how many of us can recall the struggles and pain at different phases of our lives? And how now in hindsight we see and experience the benefits … But when we were there, it was no holiday … it was about holiness, character, and the need for centering to survive which later we might thrive. Time is one classroom that defies our own fix it quickly timetable.

“… we often seek clarity at the expense of truth: we would rather have something simple and clear than continue to search beyond convention for a truth that won’t resolve to a neat formula, label, category, or pat answer. … I am more interested in generating conversation than argument, believing that conversations have the potential to form us, inform us, and educate us far more than arguments.”, p. xv

Of course, we cannot and must not stop at mere conversations. Conversations which enrich and expand us generally leads us into some form of action. And yet, ironically for a generative conversation to happen requires some active participation from our total being.

“I look forward with eagerness to see what creative Christian leaders — especially young ones, previously unheard ones, and ones from the global South — might do in taking the ideas and questions raised in the book and working with them further so that we all will see and celebrate the ultimate goodness of God more clearly and so that we may more joyfully and fully do justice, love, kindness, and walk humbly with God.”, p. xvi

Another challenge where some have already taken the plunge, others still testing the waters … others pushed in without fully realizing what they are getting into.

“The word destructive is often associated with the word deconstructive but the association is erroneous. Deconstruction is not destruction; it is hope. It arises from the belief that sometimes, our constructed laws get in the way of the way of unseen justice, out undeconstructed words get in the way of communication, our institutions get in the way of the purposes for which they were constructed, our formulations get in the way of meaning, our curricula get in the way of learning. In those cases, one must deconstruct laws, words, institutions, formulations, or curricula in the hope that something better will appear once the constructions-become-obstructions have been taken apart. The love of what is hidden, as yet unseen, and hoped for gives one courage to deconstruct what is seen and familiar. This book, in a sense, attempts to deconstruct our conventional concepts of hell in the sincere hope that a better vision of the gospel of Jesus Christ will appear.”, p. xviii

I think it needs to be noted that this is a delicate process and needs to be handled with care. Much caution is needed and a safe community is a must But on top of that, a wise sage walking along side and/or a faithful discerning friend does wonders, and redirects us to hope just in case we are lost or at lease feel lost! An important ingredient of course in all this is simple humility and a teachable spirit.

Is anything undeconstructable? someone is asking. Obviously, while God and God’s mysteries would be beyond human deconstruction, it makes sense that anything constructed by humans would also be deconstructable by them — including human formulations about God and God’s mysteries. Perhaps, deconstruction, then could be seen as the search for God and God’s mysteries when human constructions may be obscuring, them: it is an endeavor hoping eventually to fail, for when it fails and reaches the Undeconstructable, it has reached the goal of its pursuit.”, p. xvii-xiii

The distinction between “deconstruction” and “destruction” is crucial for people who are honestly facing the “stuff” within them. The theme of hope for a better vision of the gospel needs to be emphasized too. In many ways while we are used to being “pushed” into the future or into action. The picture changes here when it’s Hope which is “pulling us” forward.

As we approach the end of this preface and this post, once again it’s not about the “stuff” we are working through or the refinement of our understandings, it’s about the one whom is calling us forward step by step – relating to the Triune God more than relating to the ideas of a Triune God. It’s good to take all this talking and thinking not just human wrestling but in the context of Worship.

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