Down throughout the ages, we've seen sea-changes in the way believers practice the Christian faith. It's all about setting aside old, outgrown theology and embracing something new and fresh. God's people have always been on the move, and author Brian McLaren argues that rather than believers leaving the faith as current statistics seem to suggest, they're really experiencing a once an era spiritual shift in the way they think that could mean great things for the future. He posits that these changes can be seen in three distinct areas: spiritual, theological, and missional. Spiritually, believers are moving away from a set of rules to follow and embracing the good news of love, and theologically, they're rejecting an angry, violent God in favor of a God of love and compassion, while missionally, they're stepping away from organized religion in favor of organizing religion toward the greater good of all. Throughout the book, McLaren invites readers to join him on this spiritual pilgrimage toward finding a better way to be Christian.
Brian McLaren has been on my radar since he came to my attention as an occasional contributor to the Sojourners blog. I enjoyed what he had to say in those posts, and as a result, I've had more than one of his books on my TBR list for a while. Our church book club chose The Great Spiritual Migration, and even though it wasn't one of his books that I'd had on my list the longest, I was very eager to read it. I found it interesting that both Rev. McLaren and I come from similar faith backgrounds. We were both raised in a more fundamentalist atmosphere, but later in life, have gravitated toward a more progressive view of Christianity. This is why I very much appreciated the chapter of the book titled "God 5.0," in which he explains how each individual's view of God changes dramatically from infancy into adulthood and it's not until we reach the 5.0 version of God that we've truly climbed to the pinnacle of understanding. That's where I'm trying to go right now, although it's sometimes a steep trek to getting there.
This also ties into Rev. McLaren's discussion of how many Christians are seeking to define themselves through lives that are more about expressing love toward others, while leaving behind rigid lists of rules and regulations. I very much enjoyed the chapter on "Learning How to Love," in which he talks about moving away from dehumanizing and scapegoating others and into humanizing them and seeing them as our brothers and sisters in the human race. If we take this tack, we'll always want what's best for others and focus more on the common good, rather than just on ourselves or our own little "tribe." If churches put half as much effort into simply loving each other in a generous and selfless way as they seem to put into trying to get people to believe a certain way (which BTW is pretty pointless IMHO, considering how may different Christian denominations there are out there), then we could really change the world for the better.
The chapter titled "The Genocide Card in Your Back Pocket" was particularly eye-opening. I knew that ever since it allied itself with empire during the reign of Constantine over the Roman Empire, the Christian faith has had a long sordid history of human rights abuses. But Rev. McLaren managed to enlighten me on a few new ones I wasn't familiar with, and let me say, it's truly stomach-churning stuff. In light of this, I can't help but feel that my faith has a lot for which it needs to repent and atone. And I'm not just talking about the past. Many things are still going on today, such as Christian ties to white supremacy, Christian exceptionalism, Christian alliances with politics, and more that we really need to clean house on. In order to do so, we must first give up our view of God as a violent Supreme Being and embrace a new view of God as a sacrificially loving and renewing Spirit.
Lastly I very much enjoyed the chapter on "The Bible in Labor," which seeks to explain the different ways of reading the Bible. Some subscribe to an absolute literal interpretation, while others view it as a literary work that contains artistry and has deeper meanings to glean from its pages. Rev. McLaren shows that reading of this holy text can be done in more than a simple binary way, and in fact is a two axis system. I loved the little chart he provides in which literal vs. literary are on the horizontal axis, while innocent/critical/integral are on the vertical axis. It really helped me to understand these different way of interpreting Biblical texts and served to convince me that more people need to look much deeper than the surface. In doing so, we can come to an understanding that what we might see as tensions or contradictions between certain passages are really contractions or the equivalent of a woman being in labor. Many worry that rethinking their approach to Bible-reading may call into question whether Jesus still matters, but in reality, looking at it from this perspective can make Jesus even more beautiful by disarming both our understanding of the Bible and of God.
Overall, The Great Spiritual Migration is an excellent book that challenges readers to open themselves to a more generous orthodoxy, which coincidentally is the title of one of Rev. McLaren's other books. It invites persons of faith to rethink their old - and perhaps, in some cases, outdated - views of God to take a fresh look at theology. And since so many of the faithful are beginning to look for ways to ensure a better, more peaceful future for us all, it also dares us to move away from organized religion and into organizing religion to help others through collaboration. Basically it's time to migrate and change just as the faith has done several times down throughout history, and I, for one, am ready for that journey.
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