Beyond Business-as-Usual Christianity
Brian McLaren talks about hell, the emerging church, and seeker Christians who are fed up with traditional Christianity.
I knew it would be seen as controversial to some people. If they had asked me for further explanation, I would have told them that this is an especially important issue for Americans to think about right now. Since the invasion of Iraq, there are millions of Christians around the world who now are in danger. If they associate with a Christian religion, that makes them seem to be associated with the United States for a whole number of reasons. It becomes dangerous and impossible for people who want to follow Jesus in their lives to identify as Christians. Very often if you're in a Muslim country, and you identify as a Christian, you're set up for exclusion and bad treatment. In some cases, worse.
What made you want to tackle the concept of hell in the final book of your trilogy?
In the message of Jesus, I think there is a balance between how the message relates to our would in history as we know it and how it relates to the experience of people beyond death, outside of history. For many Christians, their faith is primarily about what happens to people after they die. That distracts them from seeking justice and living in a compassionate way while we're still alive in this life. We need to go back and take another look at Jesus' teachings about hell. For so many people, the conventional teaching about hell makes God seem vicious. That's not something we should let stand.
In your book, your main character Pastor Dan is "put on trial" by his church board and his doctrinal beliefs are examined. Is Dan's experience like other pastors' in America today?
These are very difficult and challenging times for pastors. In the last thirty years, there's been more crossover between denominations. People are exposed to a lot more theological diversity even though many of our church structures were set up to preserve a lot more theological uniformity. Dan represents someone working in a church structure that did not have much room for diversity and yet he began to stretch outside of those parameters. I think that is a very common situation. Even in my travels I meet pastors who have gone through an awful lot of pain in these kinds of circumstances.
Will this continue to be a struggle within Christian churches?