A Conversation about Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity
Responding to Brian McLaren’s Question # 1: The Narrative Question
Welcome: You’re reading “Part 3” of my blog series responding to Brian McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christianity (read Part 1 here and Part 2 here). Many have engaged Brian’s thinking by focusing on a systematic theology response (visit here to see 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’s the Big Idea?
Brian’s first question asks, What is the overarching story line of the Bible? He’s asking what are the deep problems that the original Christian story was trying to solve? What’s the big picture?
Brian claims that the traditional answer to these questions are radically informed by what he calls the Greco-Roman narrative, and thus in turn influenced by Platonic thought and Roman imperialism. That he doesn’t lend any historical support to this major contention is problematic. Much worse, however, is the straw man he fashions. One can’t even say it’s a caricature or a stereotype. That would imply that the version he presents as the traditional Christian meta-narrative is anywhere near what anyone actually teaches.
What Brian’s addressing is the “CFR Narrative”—the Creation, Fall, Redemption story line of the Bible. One hardly recognizes it in Brian’s hands. I’ve authored two books on church history and studied church history for 25 years. I’ve never once read anyone’s view of the CFR Narrative that sounds the least bit like Brian’s straw man. In fact, let’s all agree. Brian, the Greco-Roman narrative is not Christian. You detest that view. So do I.
The CCFRC Narrative
Now that we’re in agreement with Brian that the Greco-Roman narrative fails the Christian test, let’s do what we came here to do. Let’s ask, “What difference does our response to the narrative question make for how we care like Christ (biblical counseling) and for how we live like Christ (spiritual formation)?”
The CFR narrative, as actually taught in historic Christianity, is really the CCFRC narrative.
*Community: The eternal community of Oneness shared by the Trinity.
*Creation: God’s original design of the universe and of the nature of human nature.
*Fall: Humanity’s fall into sin.
*Redemption: God’s solution to humanity’s problem—salvation in Christ.
*Consummation: Eternity future.
These five meta-narrative themes, plus two core questions about truth and ministry, provide us with life’s seven ultimate questions. By addressing these seven questions, we offer a biblical counseling and spiritual formation response to Brian’s narrative question.
Life’s Seven Ultimate Questions
In our post-modern generation shaped by relativism, even the Church is filled with differing views on the largest issues of life and ministry. The question that defines us more than any other is: “Upon what do we base our life and ministry?” Here are seven truths that must shape the way we see life and ministry. They teach us what makes biblical ministry truly biblical.
1. Question 1: “What is truth? Where do I find answers?”
Answer 1—The Word: “God’s Word is sufficient, authoritative, profound, and relevant.”
All that we need for life and godliness we find in Scripture (the written Word). In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (the Living Word). We live and breathe every nano-second not by bread alone, but by the Word of God. Therefore, in life and ministry every question is ultimately a God-question and every answer is fundamentally a God-answer.
2. Question 2: “Who is God?”
Answer 2—Community/The Creator: “God is Trinitarian.”
God is not the “alone with the alone.” The God of the Universe is, always has been, and always will be Three-in-One, communitarian, Trinitarian. Before God created, He related. Thus God created us not out of need, but graciously from the overflow of infinite Trinitarian fellowship. Reality is relational because God is Trinitarian. Therefore, in life and ministry our purpose is to enjoy and glorify God as we combine Scripture and soul, truth and love.
3. Question 3: “Who am I”?
Answer 3—Creation: “We are created with dignity by God in the image of Christ.”
I am not an accident. I am fearfully and wonderfully made with the purpose of worshipful fellowship with the God of the universe and sacrificial one-another fellowship with my fellow human beings. Together we are to enjoy God by glorifying Him forever as we fulfill our calling as stewards of His universe. Therefore, in life and ministry our goal is to reflect increasingly the inner life of Christ.
4. Question 4: “What went wrong?”
Answer 4—Fall: “We sinfully and foolishly choose god-substitutes over God.”
The only explanation for sin and suffering is humanity’s fall into rebellion initiated by Adam and Eve and continued to this day by every person who ever lived. We sinfully forsake and attempt to replace God because we have lost our awe of God and chosen to love false gods. Therefore, in life and ministry we must recognize and confess that our core problem is spiritual adultery.
5. Question 5: “Can we change? How do people change?”
Answer 5—Redemption: “We must apply our complete salvation to our daily sanctification.”
Our only hope for change is our acceptance by faith of God’s grace in Christ. Those who are new creations in Christ can change because they have already been changed. Justification (our new pardon), reconciliation (our new peace), regeneration (our new purity), and redemption (our new power) provide the four-fold basis for daily growth into the image of Christ. Therefore, in life and ministry our identity in Christ is foundational to our transformation in Christ.
6. Question 6—“Where am I headed? What is my destiny?”
Answer 6—Consummation/Glorification: “Heaven is my final home.”
For those who enter into eternal relationship with God in Christ, our destiny is endless relationship and purpose—sacred communion within God’s holy and happy family. The biblical answer to the question of ultimate destiny ought to impact drastically how we live today—our future destiny impacts our present reality. Therefore, in life and ministry, reading the end of the story makes all the difference in how we respond to present suffering and how we overcome besetting sins.
7. Question 7—“Can I help? How can I help?”
Answer 7—Sanctification/Ministry: “We dispense God’s cure for the soul—grace.”
Grace is God’s prescription for our disgrace—the disgrace of sin and the disgrace of suffering. Grace is God’s medicine of choice for our sinful and suffering world. God calls us to be dispensers of His grace which sustains and heals us in our suffering, which reconciles and guides us in our sin, and which moves us toward sanctification in Christ. Therefore, in life and ministry we must be dispensers of grace.
The Life of the Soul through the Lens of the Scriptures
These seven biblical categories are essential for seeing the life of the soul through the lens of the Scriptures. The biblical meta-narrative is absolutely vital because these relevant biblical categories address life’s seven ultimate questions that every honest person asks.
Rather than being some Greco-Roman invention based upon some contrived Platonic and imperialistic concepts, the biblical CCFRC Narrative offers God’s authoritative wisdom for how we minister to one another for His glory. Omit these and we have no “practical theology,” no “pastoral theology.” That’s what we lose if we accept Brian’s straw man attack on the historic CFR Narrative.
The Rest of the Story
In our next post, we’ll respond to Brian’s second question, the authority question: How should the Bible be understood? We’ll ask that question through the lens of biblical counseling and spiritual formation.
Join the Conversation
What is the Bible’s meta-narrative and what difference does it make in real life?