Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?

Brian McLaren has long been among my favorite authors, not because I always agree with him (I don't), but because he always makes me think, always enlarges my understanding, and always does so from a perspective that shows his love for Jesus and regard for the Bible as God's Word.

He mostly does it again in his book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World. In it, McLaren asks the question, "To accept and love God, must I betray my neighbor of another religion? To accept and love my neighbor, must I betray the God of my religion?"

The book is his answer to the question, his quest for a strong and benevolent Christian identity, rather than having to choose between a weak-but-benign sort of Christian life and testimony or a strong-but-hostile experience. He describes his quest in four sections:

The Crisis of Christian Identity. He says, "We Christians will not experience a reorientation of our identity until we are willing to go through a profound rethinking of our history." He suggests that "what we call Christianity today has a history, and this history reveals it as a Roman, imperial version of Christianity"--one that mixes Christ-like elements of love, joy, peace, and reconciliation with "strictly imperial elements" of superiority, conquest, domination, and hostility.

The Doctrinal Challenge. McLaren then goes on to explore how doctrines relating to Creation, original sin, election, the Trinity, Christology, and the Holy Spirit can be understood in new ways--ways that foster a strong/benevolent Christian identity.

The Liturgical Challenge. He next tackles the Christian calendar, baptism, worship and teaching, reading and study, and communion, suggesting new approaches to these practices that conform better (in his view) to the teachings of Jesus. He says, "There is no way forward in the pursuit of a strong-benevolent Christian identity that bypasses a lengthy journey through the wild and challenging landscape of hermeneutics."

The Missional Challenge. In the final section, McLaren addresses the question of how a Christian with a strong-and-benevolent identity might see his or her mission in a pluralistic world. He prescribes "subversive friendship," "friendship that crosses the boundaries of otherness and dares to offer and receive hospitality." He suggests that "explicitly Christian worship can be explicitly hospitable to Jews, Muslims, and others." And he says that "my identity as a follower of Christ requires me first to move toward the other in friendship and then to move with the other in service to those in need."

I liked most of what he said, and loved the spirit in which he said it. I was disappointed in the middle two sections of the book by the impression that the author was not always letting the Bible say what it says, but was sometimes trying to get it to say what it should say (in his view). I think he could have made the same case (and maybe even a stronger one) with a better hermeneutical approach.

Still, like all of McLaren's books, this one delighted me, made me think, take notes, and reconsider a good many things. It opened new doors to understanding and I think has already produced good fruit in me.

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