A Conversation about Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity
Responding to Brian McLaren’s Question # 6: The Church Question
Welcome: You’re reading Part 8 of my blog series responding to Brian McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christianity (read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7). Many have engaged Brian’s thinking by focusing on a systematic theology response (visit here for a boatload of links). My focus is on pastoral theology or practical theology. As a pastor, counselor, and professor who equips the church for biblical counseling and spiritual formation, I’m asking: “What difference does our response to each question make for how we care like Christ (biblical counseling) and for how we live like Christ (spiritual formation)?”
What Is the Church Here For?
In addressing the church issue, Brian asks a series of important questions. “Around what grand endeavor can we rally? What one great danger do people need to be saved from and, more positively, what one great purpose do they need to be saved for? Around what melody can we harmonize without trying to homogenize?” (p. 164).
In response, Brian believes that we must “rethink our core mission” (p. 165). Brian’s rethinking is motivated by his belief that the church has lost touch with “normal” people and that preachers have forgotten how to speak their language. He’s also motivated by his perception that the church is living within an isolated or withdrawn religious subculture, or spiritual country club.
I’m not sure what churches Brian is visiting, but I agree with him—I wouldn’t applaud those churches either. I find it ironic that Brian uses the “spiritual country club” imagery for the churches he’s against. It seems to me that an exorbitant percentage of young Emergent church leaders are all coincidentally called to minister in churches filled with cool, trendy, well-educated, philosophically-inclined, upwardly-mobile, suburban, white-collar types. Isn’t God calling any young Emergent leaders to minister to blue-collar, high-school-educated, rural, or urban people?
A Church Of Biblical Counseling
Brian also seems to think that only he and his fellow Emergent church leaders are ministering in the mess and muck of life, and that only they are speaking the language of the people. The truth is, non-Emergent churches are in the trenches, on the front lines providing ministries based upon truth and love.
Faith Baptist Church in Lafayette, Indiana, under the direction of Pastor Steve Viars, is a prime example. They’re staunchly conservative Evangelical in theology and cutting-edge in ministry practice and outreach. They’re a church of biblical counseling, not just a church with biblical counseling. Their biblical counseling ministry is not just within their congregation, it is to their community.
Every week over 100 community members receive free biblical counseling from Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries. Their waiting list is seemingly endless. Someone must believe they are speaking their language.
As part of Faith Community Ministries, the church built a community center…not for the congregation, but for the…community. The list of need-meeting ministries is amazing, such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Community Blood Drives, Community Foster Car, Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross Disaster Shelter, Court Appointed Special Advocates, Clothing Closet, Food Pantry, etc. As part of this ministry, Faith also built a state-of-the-art outdoor skate board park. Many of these “Skaters” end up in church…with their skate boards and their torn jeans to hear exegetical, expository, biblical preaching every Sunday. These young Skaters believe Faith is speaking their language.
Faith’s Vision of Hope residential treatment center offers faith-based treatment for girls age 14-28 who are struggling with unplanned pregnancy, alcohol or drug abuse, eating disorders, or self-harm. State agencies and the court system regularly refer girls to Vision of Hope—with the full knowledge that the program is based upon biblical counseling. Someone realizes they are speaking their language.
Faith Bible Seminary combines the traditional M.Div. emphasis in theology, the original languages, and pastoral training within a mentoring environment in partnership with area local churches. Students gain first-hand experience with Faith Biblical Counseling, Vision of Hope, and other unique ministries. They have no problem attracting students nor do their graduates have any problem finding local church placement. People know they are speaking their language.
Spiritual Formation in Truth and Love
Brian offer’s his view of the new core mission of the church. We’re called to focus on communities that form Christlike people living as agents of transformation. “The church exists to form Christlike people, people of Christlike love. It exists to save them from the danger of wasting their lives” (p. 164). The meaning of those words depends upon how Brian answered his previous five questions. As Mike Wittmer notes:
“Brian’s shallow evaluation of our problem (no Fall, original sin, total depravity, or hell) produces a shallow understanding of salvation (love as much as you can and let God’s judgment burn your bad stuff away) which produces a shallow view of the church (it exists merely to stop people from wasting their lives).”
Brian wants to know, “How does spiritual formation in the way of Jesus differ from religious education in the way of Christianity?”(p. 170). Great question! Of course, to answer this we must go back to Who Jesus is and why He came. If Jesus is a community organizer Who came to usher in the “sacred ecosystem” (p. 165), then formation in Jesus looks like one thing. But if Jesus is the God-man Who came in Holy Love to justify, regenerate, reconcile, and redeem sinners, then it looks like quite another thing.
Brian traces the church’s problem to knowledge without love. I don’t know anyone who would argue that we should only have love or only have knowledge. But Brian seems to minimize the role of knowledge—truth, doctrine, theology. The same Paul he quotes in 1 Corinthians also says in Philippians 1:9-11 that our love must abound in knowledge and depth of insight. Paul is not pitting love against knowledge. Paul is saying that truth or love alone are never enough. Brian says the church should be a school of love (p. 170). I would say, and I believe it’s a crucial difference, that the church should be a school where love abounds in knowledge and depth of insight.
Brian also says that we need to be Spirit-saturated people. I agree. Of course, we have to ask and answer the question, “How does the Spirit saturate us?” In what ways and under what condition(s) does the Spirit enter a person’s life? I would say, through rebirth, through salvation—through justification, regeneration, reconciliation, and redemption. (See my response to Question # 5.)
Brian’s view of the Fall, of Christ, and of the Gospel all seem to call into question salvation as justification, regeneration, reconciliation, and redemption. In this chapter, Brian furthers states that the goal of the church is to save people from wasting their lives. That’s quite different from saving them from sin, depravity, and alienation from God. So, without salvation, how does the Spirit saturate a person?
I believe the Bible teaches that the goal of the church is to introduce people to Christ Who saves them. They are thus justified, regenerated, reconciled, redeemed, and indwelt by the Spirit and thus they are empowered to be formed into the image of Christ. Then, as new creations in Christ, together as the Body of Christ, we minister to one another (biblical counseling and spiritual formation) so that our inner lives increasingly reflect the inner life of Christ and so that our outer lives increasingly sacrificially minister Christ’s grace to hurting and hardened people. That’s certainly not a wasted life.
The Rest of the Story
In our next post, we respond to Brian’s answer to the sex question. He asks, “Can we find a way to address human sexuality without fighting about it?” What does biblical counseling have to say about addressing human sexuality?
Join the Conversation
What is the purpose of the church and how is it accomplished?