Our church's youth leader passed this along to me, as he is a huge fan of MacLaren. I can't share his enthusiasm for this book, however, as it is a textbook case of "post-Christian" Christianity, so extremely shallow in its "spirituality" that I'm not sure even Oprah Winfrey's audience would find it appealing. McLaren was formerly an evangelical and apparently has some sort of appeal to other ex-evangelicals, who claim to have been "hurt by the church," which apparently means "the church isn't tailoring its moral teachings to fit the secular world." This is truly a toxic book, one that could do a great deal of spiritual harm.
You may not agree with everything McLaren says, but you will find it thoroughly biblical and challenging. Studied the book with a group of friends and the conversations were always engaging - it takes you to a place where you must choose to either follow Jesus at a deeper level or find yourself content with the same old same old.
"Naked Spirituality" is first broken into four large segments that McLaren labels "seasons" of faith, those being:
1) Simplicity: The Season of Spiritual Awakening
2) Complexity: The Season of Spiritual Strengthening
3) Perplexity: The Season of Spiritual Surviving and
4) Harmony: The Season of Spiritual Deepening.
These seasons are described as the phases of faith, and of growing in faith, that an individual my move through as he or she progresses through a spiritual life. McLaren doesn't restrict this idea to Christians only, but to all walks of faith. But, as I am looking through the lens of Christ-follower, my review will most likely connect with Christians more readily than with those of other faiths.
McLaren designates a collection of words, or practices as he terms them, to each season. (Hence the subtitle, "A Life With God in 12 Simple Words.") He never states that each person has to go through these practices, or that the seasons of faith are restricted only to these practices. He is careful to stress that each spiritual walk is individual, yet there can be general, overall similarities and patterns shared by all.
I appreciated that McLaren's tone was one of offering, rather than telling. He doesn't force-feed his reader, but rather extends his handful of spiritually-minded ideas, requesting that the reader consider them thoughtfully. Ultimately he respectfully leaves the choice of whether to accept or reject the ideas solely up to the reader, and without judgment on his part. He makes no excuses for what he believes, but gives the reader the same regard--each individual has a choice. I found this to be so refreshing.
My favorite of McLaren's spiritual words or practices, was the word "O," which he describes succinctly as practicing jubilation. When I am in serious prayer, whether my prayer be pleading or rejoicing, I preface God's name with the word "O." I've heard others pray out loud in this same manner, as if by adding that single, tiny word, we are emphasizing our reverence, our helplessness, our need, before a mighty, loving God. Even some of my very shortest, yet most intense and sincere, prayers include the "O"..."O Lord, please help me" comes readily to mind lately! But although I've heard and said the "O" hundreds of times, and read the "O" time after time in the Bible (note how often it occurs in Psalms, as McLaren points out), it never would have occurred to me that this is a spiritual practice, something that spiritually-minded people gravitate toward naturally, as if it's a deep-seated exclamation of the soul. And as simple as the idea actually is, I find it to be extremely profound and beautifully true.
This is only one example of the seasons and practices of spirituality described by an author who comes across as kind and caring. The other concepts are just as lovely, and will truly allow a Christian to understand where he or she stands along the spiritual path. Sometimes we feel like we are flailing, sometimes euphoric. Sometimes we are just plain blah. For me, this book offers the thought-provoking reassurance that a spiritual walk is all about movement, fueled by love and grace, even if the movement is small, and my tank of love and grace feels all but empty.
I'd feel confident giving it as a gift to absolutely anyone I know, and would feel equally comfortable passing it out to strangers. Not everyone may agree with every element in it. And I may not agree with every one of his ideas (although obviously I loved everything in this book). But who cares. There's no pleasure or growth in being a machine.
Please note that I received a copy of this book by free-of-charge by HarperOne, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions stated here are completely and entirely my own.