The following post may also be viewed at In A Spacious Place, written by Christopher Page, and is a response from Brian McLaren’s presentation in Victoria, BC. May it serve the purpose of generating healthy discussion as we seek to follow The Way of Jesus.
As I think about the weekend with Brian McLaren, I am struck by a problem common to many presentations given by visiting experts who fly in from another context and present their insights relating to church or almost any area of human endeavour – it is easier to deconstruct than to construct, to criticize than to create.
Brian offers a brilliant and insightful critique of a style of Christian presentation that is based upon an unwarranted self-confidence. He rejects a tone in Christian evangelism that is arrogant, belligerent, argumentative, and fear-based. He critiques the narrow-minded literalism that declares if you don’t agree with me, you are going to burn in hell.
Instead, Brian pleads for a Christian presentation that is respectful, open, spacious, and rooted in love and compassion. Brian is not primarily interested in a rescue mission focused on securing the promise of heaven for those who sign on to the church’s designated dogmas. He is more interested in inviting all people to share in God’s healing transforming work for all of creation in the present.
The problem of course is that Brian is short on specifics. To be fair, “specifics” are only possible when they emerge from the context in which they need to be embodied. And Brian does not live on the West Coast of Canada, so should not be expected to be able to tell us exactly how to embody the principles he presents. There is a great danger when people or communities take a vision from one time or location and attempt to impose it directly upon their own situation without seriously considering the uniqueness of their own context.
It is the job of those of us who do live here and who find ourselves encouraged by the general direction of Brian’s vision to seek the guidance of God’s Spirit in finding out how we are called to embody this vision in our own time and place.
So here are some of the questions to which I need to listen after hearing Brian McLaren speak:
What are the deep questions of the heart to which people around me are genuinely seeking answers? How can I hear the real questions people have rather than imposing the questions upon them that I think they should be asking?
What makes me defensive in conversation? What do I need to do to deal with my defensiveness so that I might be able to provide a safe listening space for people who might want to enter into real conversation?
How am I being called to serve people outside the church without agenda, without demand, and without conditions?
What keeps me from being honest with people outside the church and allowing them to be as honest with me as they might like to be? How might I be placing barriers in the way of people being really honest with me about their deepest experiences of life?
What might be the differences between argument and dialogue/conversation? If there are differences between argument and dialogue/conversation, which might be the more effective approach to entering into communication with people outside the church? How do I recognize when I have moved from dialogue/conversation to argument?
What might people see in my life that might lead them to conclude that they might become worse people than they already are if they join me in the church?
“Is there a way to have faith without becoming close-minded, bigoted, anti-something?” What might this look like? Do I have to abandon all my passionately held convictions in order to avoid becoming “close-minded, bigoted, anti-something”?
What might the church look like if we put belonging before believing and viewed belonging as the way into faith rather than faith as the prerequisite to membership? How do we communicate that we are interested in making it easier for people to belong without demanding that they sign on the dotted line of every Christian doctrine first?
What behaviour in my church community might make the church an unsafe place for a person to find a sense of belonging?
“What do spiritual seekers need from us?”
How do we crate an open spacious place where people are invited to enter a conversation rather than join an institution that has something to defend and needs volunteers to keep its life going?
What quadrant does my faith community most naturally fit into: Liturgical, Social Action, Evangelical, Charismatic? How might my community be encouraged to draw in a more balanced way on the quadrants that are less instinctively comfortable?
Which of these qualities need to be developed in my community in order for us to be a more hospitable space?
1. it has a sense of humility
2. it is an integrating place
3. there is an openness to and a hunger for change
4. there is a focus on mission and spiritual formation
5. there is serious theological reflection
6. there is a growing sense of crisis, emergence and opportunity
What do I need in order to be able to “hold a high level of identity and yet maintain a high level of welcome”? What would a community look like that is characterized by “a high level of identity and yet maintain a high level of welcome”?
How do clergy as “priests to and for the church,” enable disciples to become “priests from and of the church”? How am I as a disciple called to be a priest “from and of the church” in the world?
What might we be doing in the church that causes people to feel that the gospel we present is aimed at saving them from God, rather than drawing them into a life of compassion and wisdom in which they are empowered to share with God in saving all creation from “the evil inflicted upon it by the world”?
How can the church embody God’s call to share in saving all creation from “the evil inflicted upon it by the world”?
Continue to reexamine our faith by exploring Brian McLaren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming The Faith. It is quite possibly the most influential book to come out in a long time, both practically and theologically.