I invite you to join me in some summer reading. Brian McClaren’s A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith ( Harper Collins, Inc.. 2010) is at the top of my list. I plan to read two chapters a week and to post my thoughts and questions, beginning with this post which is a response to Chapter One. The book is available from Amazon and I will be glad to order you a copy if you send me an email.
Please do share your responses to what I post, whether or not you have read the chapters for the week or even cracked open the book. If something in the book strikes you, do share that also, even if I have not written about it.
So why did I choose this book? Do we really need a new kind of Christianity? What is wrong with the kind we have? St. Mark’s is a committed to be a multigenerational parish in which we celebrate God, enjoy one another, and serve our neighbors. Our mission is to create a place of safety and support in which all God’s people are given the opportunity to be transformed, as we explore our faith and our call to service. I am glad to serve as your priest as we seek to follow where God is calling us.
Yet it does seem clear to me that we need to find a new way of being church at St. Mark’s. The established members are getting older and new members come with a different mindset about church and many different ideas and questions about what they really believe. Parents with young children are often stretched thin and sleep deprived. Those with school age children choose organized sports over worship or education at St. Mark’s. The current way we are being Christian together seems to be only marginally important for many and unsustainable for the congregation. Is there a way of being Christian together which will meet our deep hunger for belonging and purpose in life?
McLaren believes that this is a challenge facing the church as a whole, across denominations, affecting both liberal and conservative Christians. Yet he is full of hope and excitement, seeing a new generation of Christian disciples being formed, coming alive and coming of age, disciples who hold amazing promise, even as they face huge challenges. I see this too, in the young adult interns I work with in Boston, in young families that find their way to St. Mark’s and in long term members who are opening themselves to new ways of being church. I look forward to thinking more about this as I read the book and am in conversation with you.
In the first chapter McClaren quotes Harvey Cox, a theologian at Harvard who has influenced me for decades. Cox describes the first 300 years after Jesus as the age of faith. The church was persecuted but it grew rapidly, characterized by energy, diversity, suffering and courage. Then the Roman Emperor, Constantine, made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. So the Empire that had crucified Jesus now claimed to be the agent, patron and police force of a newly dominant Christian religion. Unity of belief became a way to promote unity in the empire and thousands were executed as heretics. The age of belief had been launched. I still see signs of this way of thinking; people are concerned that if they don’t believe the creed exactly as written (which most don’t), they are not fully Christian.
Cox and McClaren say the age of belief is dying. Cox says that we are entering a new age, the age of the spirit. I find connection here with the reading I was doing on sabbatical. I was discovering a new way of believing that has to do with bringing my mind into my heart. For me this means, for example, that when I say “I believe in God, the Father” this is not primarily an intellectual statement related to other statements, where I find myself thinking “if God is Father, why do bad things happen to His children?,” and “should I be saying God the Parent?” In the new way of believing I take a breath, settle into my heart and entrust myself to a universe in which I am a beloved child. This is not really new. The Latin word “credo” from which we get the word “creed” means “I set my heart” more than “I believe this statement to be true.” The age of the spirit has much in common with the first 300 years, the age of faith.
I am grateful to McClaren for his courage in staying in the tension that he feels between something real in Christianity and something wrong. I hope that this first chapter is laying the foundation for a deeper exploration as we wonder about a new kind of Christianity.