How do you decide what books to read and which ones to avoid? With so many stories written and so little time to read, how do you know which book is worth your time? For some of us, we have a few trusted “followees” on Twitter whose book recommendations act as our guides. At other times, some books receive great acclaim and mention in the public sphere and this draws our interest. We read them to be in on the fuss or the buzz. And sometimes, we simply skim through reviews, checking out what the reviewers say about the book, who the reviewers are and how many stars the book gets on Goodreads.
It is this last form of ranking books – the “starring” – that had me stumped after I finished reading Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian. The book is well written, in fact, it is superbly written. McLaren has a way with words and a way with the hearts of the people that read them. He knows how to tug at our human insecurities and manipulate our emotions. He is a master at appealing to our human need for belonging, justice, fairness, equality and freedom. He may not categorize himself as a liberal (since he avoids all categories), but his messages always have that air of being “liberating”.
After I finished the book and marked it “read” on Goodreads, I was prompted, as usual, to review it and rate it. But I suddenly found myself in a dilemma. It is not a new dilemma, but this book made it even more prominent this time around.
So, how many stars would I give this book?
If I was only looking at the way the story is written, the way the narrative unfolds and the way ideas are weaved, I would give the story 5 stars, hands down. Brian McLaren is an excellent communicator. His sincerity and intellectual honestly flows easily throughout the book. You don’t struggle to believe him. He is convincing because he is not trying to be convincing. He is sincere.
What about his message? His claims? His theology? I would have to give the book 2 stars. Even though McLaren often points out the weaknesses of modernity, he gives it an unfair treatment. Yes, some of the approaches of modernistic thinking are highly reductionistic. But are they true? McLaren doesn’t address this. In fact, he seems too impatient with the worldview to do this. He is so concerned with moving beyond modernism to post-modernism that he fails to listen to anything valid modernism has to say… or if modernism has anything worth preserving. The author is responding to strawmen.
Brian McLaren is a man who idolizes progress. He may not do so actively or consciously, but it comes out in his books and talks. He wants progress for the sake of progress. He is the man G.K. Chesterton talked about when he described people who want progress for the movement rather than the destination. But it is pointless to praise progress when you do not have a definite vision – an unchanging goal – that you are progressing towards.
Even though he claims that he still believes in the same Bible, and that his only concern is changing our approach to the Bible, McLaren actually ends up distorting the message of the Bible. If we get to choose how we see and interpret the Bible, should we be surprised if we end up seeing something totally different? How we interpret the Bible is just as important, if not more, as the Bible we interpret. Our worldview matters, and it must be informed by the same Bible, not by the prevailing cultural worldview.
McLaren’s version of progress involves changing both the journey and the destination. It ends up being an obsolete progress. McLaren is not just proposing the best way to get home. He is proposing a whole new home, a different Christianity… which ends up being no Christianity at all.
No wonder the logical next step, after writing a book on A New Kind of Christian, ended up being the birth of a book titled A New Kind of Christianity. We cannot have a new Christian and still maintain the same old Christianity. We cannot change the way we see Jesus and the Bible and not end up changing the Christianity that Jesus, through the Bible, taught and died for.
So, how many stars would you give this book?