This book is a series of essays on topics which are (or should be) of current (and in some cases continuing) interest to thoughtful Christians of any denomination. Its two authors are ministers with similar backgrounds ("knee-jerk" fundamentalism). As such, each does a fairly good job of getting at least half way out of the box of traditionalist thinking about God, salvation, the Bible, and the like. Each essay presents not so much an argument for a specific view, as a set of informal suggestions for non-traditionalist thinking about a particular subject. In some cases (e.g., homosexuality), the authors, having made some progress in opening up the topic, step back inside the theological closet and shut the door. Other topics fare better. The best essay is the one concerning doubt. The author (Brian McLaren) offers, as a personal (high school) experience, this point: "Thanks to the fact that I was given the freedom to think and read and question my way through doubt, I came to see that my problem wasn't with what the Bible said, but with what some Christians said the Bible said." This is easily abstracted into an essential (or maybe the essential) precept of Christian thinking: there is no incompatibility between the idea that God's truth is immutable, and the idea that human understanding of God's truth is (highly) mutable. This is the controlling idea underlying the book, albeit one which each of the authors, from time to time, seems to forget. Those lapses should not, however, dissuade anyone from what is otherwise a worthwhile read.
My husband and I both read this, and both found it very disturbing. The theme of the book is that Christian conservatives conform to the secular culture, but in fact the authors' version of "Christianity" (notice the quotes) is much more conformed to the secular worldview. The church they are commending to the reader is completely culture-controlled, emphasizing that what Jesus "really" intended us to do is engage in left-wing political activism and protect the environment.
In trying to put conservatives/evangelicals in a bad light they resort to some serious distortions of history and the Bible. They claim that Luther and Calvin "pretty much agreed that rulers must be obeyed without question." If either of them had bothered to read John Calvin's Institutes (one of the seminal works in theology), they would know that Calvin said no such thing, since the very last section states that Christian may revolt against ungodly rulers. They then claim that evangelical preachers urge the same principle, although I have never once heard any evangelical pastor address that issue. The authors don't deal with what evangelicals actually say and believe, but what they CLAIM they say and believe.
More historical distortion: They claim the "altar call" that follows a sermon on salvation is something relatively recent. Maybe if they read Acts (not a favorite of lefties, since it shows Christians engaging in - horrors! - evangelism), they would notice that from Acts 2 (Peter's fiery sermon on Pentecost) on, there are numerous sermons followed by calls to conversion, even if the technical term "altar call" is never used. I don't know just when "altar call" came into use, but the call to repent and convert has been a constant throughout Christian history - John Wesley and George Whitefield in the 1700s, just to name two notables out of many. The authors are assuming their readers are like themselves, so sophisticated that they regard evangelism as an embarrassment.
They claim that blacks were barred from churches, which is pure nonsense. It is true that for many years they either attended separate churches or attended the same church but at different times, but that is hardly the same as "barring" them from church. They bring up Galileo and Copernicus, naturally, to make the point that Christians are anti-science morons, but in fact the Catholic church's official position on the sun revolving around the earth was not based on the Bible or on theology but on the flawed "science" of Aristotle that was taught in the universities. In their telling, the church's history has been one long, nasty story of oppression and prejudice
On the subject of homosexuality the book follows a familiar liberal formula: point out that Jesus never said anything directly about the subject, and that settles things. In fact, it doesn't. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus showed no sign of lowering the moral standards of the Jewish Law - quite the contrary, when he told people they must not only abstain from adultery but also avoid "lusting in their hearts," he was raising the moral bar, not lowering it. He was telling his disciples not to just avoid physical sins, but to keep their imaginations under control too.
The book claims evangelicals are too obsessed with the end times, and that this keeps them from trying to change this world for the better. That is just plain false: I don't know any churches that don't sponsor lots of ministries to the poor, and frankly, I don't know that many Christians worry about the end times. Secular liberals are accustomed to accusing Christians of being so other-worldly that they neglect this world, but that is not even remotely true. Look at the history of Christian and all the charities, missions, etc that were mostly the work of Christians who also firmly believed in an afterlife.
It hurts to see that someone like Tony Campolo whose books meant so much to orthodox Christians has now changed so much that he seems like a different person, fully accepting the liberal view of the church.
Wonderful. Honest discussion of current issues. I have such respect for both Campolo and McLaren. I appreciated the fact that they didn't always agree which only affirms how difficult some of these issues are. The message I am left with is .. God never asked us to have all the answers. God asks us to love and encourage on another in the faith even when we disagree.