A New Kind of Christian
An imagined conversation about how Christians should interpret the Bible and handle troubling verses.
BY: Brian D. McLaren
We covered at least six miles in our walk that day. Our conversation covered even more ground, though its course wasn't nearly as linear or smooth as the towpath beneath our feet. Let me share with you part of our conversation.
"One of our biggest debates," I said, "and maybe the most important, is the whole Bible thing. In the conservative evangelical churches that I grew up in, our view of the Bible was the most important element in our identity. Many of our churches were in fact called 'Bible Church' or 'Bible Chapel,' and our summer camps were 'Bible camps,' our higher education institutions were 'Bible colleges,' and our experiences of fellowship took place in 'Bible studies.' Our arch-opponents were the 'liberals,' the people on the other end of your line, whom we fought against because they didn't take the bible 'literally,' as we felt they should. How do you see us transcending that level of discourse, Neo?"
"You like to start with the tough ones, don't you, Dan?" he quipped. "One of my mottoes in life is that people are oftenagainst
something worth beingagainst
but in the process find themselvesfor
some things that are worth beingfor
. I think that's the case with both sides of the battle about the Bible. The conservatives are against reinterpreting ancient wisdom in light of contemporary fads or moods, and they are against in any way weakening the strong, unchanging backbone of the faith, fearing that we'll be left with a kind of jellyfish spirituality if the liberals have their way. Meanwhile, the liberals are against pitting faith against honest scientific investigation and turning faith into and ant-intellectual enterprise. They're against the obscurantism-the resistance to free inquiry-that is so common in conservative circles. And they're against the privatization of faith. They feel that conservatives have retreated to the private sphere, worrying only about their own personal salvation, leaving the world at large to go to hell ecologically, culturally, in terms of social justice, that sort of thing. So I think we have to begin by saying that both sides are against something worthy of being against. They both have a point." I interrupted. "OK, Neo, but still, the issue is pretty important. I don't think you can just wish-wash around the middle and say nice things about both sides. There's a lot at stack. Evangelicals would say that the Bible is the foundation of everything, so if you tamper with the foundation, the whole structure is in danger of crashing down. It seems to us evangelicals that liberals kind of sort through the Bible and throw out anything that doesn't appeal to them."
"Yes, and you evangelicals tend to be unaware that evangelicals themselves do the same thing. But I won't get into that."
I interrupted, "No, I'd be interested in what you had to say about that."