I read the introductory three chapters of A New Kind of Christianity, and so far it’s an updated version of the Brian we’ve seen before. He claims to be “a mild-mannered guy” who is only looking for a new way to be a Christian that will boost the declining numbers in our churches, and he can’t understand why his critics respond with “fear,” “clenched teeth,” and “suspicion and accusation.” Brian’s really good at winning sympathy, and soon I was loathing myself for ever politely disagreeing with such a nice man.
But then I remembered that this debate about the Christian faith—which he and his friends started—is not a personality contest. You can’t dismiss what Christians have always believed and then expect a free pass because you’re likeable. And just below the surface of Brian’s humble, can’t-we-all-just-get-along vibe is an accusatory tone that repeatedly compares his critics to a religious Gestapo whose leaders defend their conservative beliefs because they don’t want to lose their jobs.
That doesn’t sound like me. I am an easy-going guy who just wants to love Jesus. But to love Jesus, I have to know and believe something about him. Jesus is not an elastic symbol for whatever we happen to value (e.g., inclusive love), but is an actual person who can be known, trusted, and loved.
So why doesn’t Brian want me to know and believe the truth about Jesus? He says that his new kind of Christianity is led by Doug Pagitt, who isn’t sure that Jesus is God; Marcus Borg, who argues that Jesus is dead; and Harvey Cox, a Harvard Divinity professor who wants to blow the whole thing up and construct a new view of God that will connect with our secular age.
Brian says that Cox’s new book, The Future of Faith, divides church history into the Age of Faith (pre-Constantine), the Age of Belief (from Constantine until today), and the Age of the Spirit (yeah! That’s us!). This tripartite division of history sounds similar to the system taught by Joachim of Fiore (a medieval Jack Van Impe), except that Joachim said that the Age of the Spirit would climax around 1260 (about 700 years before Jack’s first miss).
The benefit for Brian is that Cox’s model enables him to dismiss everything from Constantine until now—ecumenical creeds, councils, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, and Piper—as belonging to an imperialistic Age of Belief when doctrine was used to “burn and banish heretics.” We now live in the fresh air of the Spirit, who frees us from our confining and mean-spirited, doctrinaire past. Brian says that A New Kind of Christianity will show the way forward by responding to 10 essential questions—which sounds like a great plan for a book (see Don’t Stop Believing).
On Tuesday I will begin blogging through Brian’s questions. I wonder if I’ll know and love Jesus better when I’m done?