Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Main Point of the Christian Faith

"The Christian faith isn't all about getting to heaven. It isn't all about the church. It isn't all about the individual spiritual life or 'personal relationship with God.' It is about all of these things, but they aren't the whole point, or even the main point. The main point is God's saving love for creation, God's faithfulness to all of creation, God's ongoing mission of healing a world torn by human injustice so that it can fulfill God's original dream. It is about God's kingdom coming to earth, and it is about God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven."

Brian D. McLaren, The Justice Project (2009)

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I find it a little odd that this articulation of the "main point" of the Christian faith doesn't actually mention Jesus. I had always thought that he's fairly important to Christianity (!?!) Absent Jesus, what in this statement is particular to Christianity but not, say, to Islam? If it isn't particular to Christianity, how could it really be the greatest defining feature of it? Odd.

Stephen Silverthorne+

Bryan Owen said...

I'm sure that Brian would say that all of this has happened through the death and resurrection of Jesus. N. T. Wright makes a similar argument that shifts the focus of the main point away from narrow individualism, too.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with his critique of individualism. Christian faith isn't all about me and my personal relationship. That's not the problem with his statement. Maybe he does have in the background an assumption that Jesus is the one through whom the "main point" is accomplished. The problem, however, is that it's profoundly misleading to keep this assertion in the background.

That's the biggest problem I've always had with McLaren in general. Not that I think he his assertions necessarily reject Christ, it's that the truth of what he says relies on background assumptions about Christ that aren't made explicit. Of course God loves creation, of course He is faithful to His creation, and of course He has an ongoing mission of healing. Of course these are central to Christian faith. But what is also central is how these things are accomplished: through Jesus Christ, God's Son. How does this statement address this?

When someone who doesn't share his background assumptions reads a statement like this, what would they conclude? That Jesus is in any way necessary to God's mission? It strikes me that this kind of statement promotes the very thing he criticizes: a faith in which the particularity of how God accomplishes His mission is left for individual believers to decide.

Stephen+

Bryan Owen said...

The problem, however, is that it's profoundly misleading to keep this assertion in the background.

You could very well be right, Stephen+. However, unless I've misunderstood, I think the book from which this excerpt comes is primarily directed towards a Christian audience. Perhaps, even then, we should not assume that persons who call themselves Christians actually are, and we should therefore preface anything we say by first going back over all of the basics?

Anonymous said...

I suppose that depends a lot on what one means by Christian audience. While Christianity has never been a monolith, I do think that in "mainstream Christianity" we used to be more justified in assuming certain foundational beliefs were held in common than we can be assured of today.

Is there not a significant difference in speaking to a conference of the Southern Baptist Convention or a clergy retreat for the Episcopal Diocese of Newark? Regardless of how we might value the respective theologies of either body, could we give a quote like McLaren's at both places and trust that his background Christological assumptions will be there in both? I doubt it, yet he must be aware that people in both groups are reading him.

McLaren's quote read in my "liberal" diocese (Ottawa) within a secular nation (Canada) says something different than it might in the American bible belt. Individualistic calls to embrace Jesus as your personal saviour run few and far between here. So how is his critique of it received? All too often, as a bludgeon for fundamentalists rather than a call for an examination of our own faith. I think McLaren bears some responsibility for this, regardless of whether it's his intent.

Stephen+

Bryan Owen said...

All good points, Stephen+.

Speaking of the assumptions we bring to things, I was drawn to this quote from McLaren, not because I share the chameleon theology of the Left, but because I heard echoes of N. T. Wright's argument in Surprised by Hope. It is true that the lens through which we read these sorts of statements and which form our assumptions and prejudgments matters a great deal.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the background, Bryan. I've enjoyed your blog long enough to know your theology isn't of the chameleon variety. Your blog title indicated that right from the start!

I actually quite appreciate McLaren (though I admit I've not read him extensively) in making me think about my assumptions around church and faith. I do tend to individualize my faith too much, and get hung up on things that aren't as central to God's mission as I suppose. However, my sense from him, is that he too often assumes individualism is primarily a problem of the right.

It is a big problem in the right, but I am more and more convinced that individualism is an across-the-board problem in western Christianity. Something that manifests itself not just in "my personal saviour" but also "my prophetic witness". It manifests itself in the selectiveness with which many nowadays assert the creeds, or in the willingness to disobey inconvenient canons (eg communion w/o baptism). I don't see him really confronting this, even though a substantial part of his audience have such leanings.

Anyway, it's something I often think about when reading McLaren. Thanks for posting this.

YBIC

Stephen+

Bryan Owen said...

Stephen+, I think you're dead on in observing that the problem of individualism runs across the theological spectrum. I don't think that "my prophetic witness" is an improvement over "my personal saviour." Both isolate the meaning of "saviour" and "prophetic witness" from the larger context that alone give them meaning, and which provide checks and balances against distorted or erroneous understandings that, in turn, fund actions that can be damaging to the Church's faith and unity.