Sunday, July 8, 2007

review 4--a different kind of christian

I guess it may seem a bit unbalanced, having spent two rather large entries on one short chapter. All I can say is that it seemed to warrant that much thought.

Chapters 4 and 5 are about the same event, and I will probably deal with them together here. 4 is a lecture Neo gives to college student members of some college Christian organizations (who happen to all be white students), and 5 is the Q&A after it. The lecture is in many ways a history lesson, where Neo tries to show how the present time is a transitional period from modernism to postmodernism, as the 1500s were a transition period from medievalism to modernism.

I don't know if it's necessarily an accident or not that the author makes all of the student's white, and of course we already know Neo is Jamaican, non-white. I deal a little later about the racial make-up of the crowd, but I can't help but think that Mclaren is giving some no-so-subtle racial message--that modernity is a white, Euro-centric thing while postmodernity is more 'open'.

By and large, Neo's claims is beyond my own knowledge of history. I know that we cannot really say that peoples did not know about the roundness of the earth, because it was know even back in antiquity--there was even on man who made a fairly accurate computation (he was Greek or Egyptian, I think) of the circumference of the Earth. There is even a place or two in the Bible which suggests that people of that time thought of the earth as a global shape. That doesn't mean that such knowledge was common, though.

To rely solely on Neo's words, that medievals thought of the universe as concentric circles which moved in a kind of divine cosmic dance, we must accept that when the concentric circles theory was shown to be false, then also the idea that the heavenly bodies moved at God's commands also was proven false. If the Bible did itself teach a geocentric universe, we would have cause to think that to find out otherwise would cause us to doubt God. But it doesn't, and if the medieval church really did hold their geocentric universe as being so important, then they were wrong.

Neo contends that modernity, and thus modern forms of Christianity, are passing away, even that while these good Christian youths are stuck in a modern form of Christianity, their fellow students have already crossed over in to postmodernity. He wants these youths to put aside modernity and strike out into postmodernity.

There is again a vagueness about what are modernity and postmodernity. We simply are not told what things need to be left behind, and what things need to be embraced. There are some attempts at it in chapter 5, which will be seen soon. There is also the idea that the world should influence the church, in that sense that Neo says that those in the world have already crossed over into postmodernity while these Christian kids are still modern. But whether those Christian kids should cross over into postmodernity themselves is based on if postmodernity is a good place to go, and that has simply not been shown. To use a crude example, if their fellow students have crossed over into a mindset of sexual freedom (which seems rather likely given how college can be), should the Christian students set aside their biblical conviction to follow?

If Christianity cannot cross over into a postmodern world without being twisted and deformed, if Christianity must be changed like Bishop Spong says it must or risk dying, then Christian must stand by their biblical convictions even at the risk of falling from what people may call 'current'. They must not give in to the spirit of the age.

Chapter 5 has more specifics in it. When one student asks what they should do, Neo is at first reluctant to give examples, but then he gives one. He asks why no Catholic students were invited to the lecture, or not students of other races, or those from more liberal organizations. He claims that if he is right, then "those distinctions are about to become inconsequential".

I remember my own time at Morehead State University in Kentucky, being a member of the Baptist Student Union there. Kentucky I suppose isn't considered a very 'progressive' place, but at the BSU we had black students and Asian students who were active and even in positions of leadership. I have a hard time imagining that a meeting like Mclaren writes about would have no students at all of other races in it, and I wonder if maybe it is Mclaren who needs to wake up. Maybe our BSU was different, but I doubt it.

I think the part about allowing liberals into the club may be the point of all of this--we could call it ecumenicalism. If Neo contends that those distinctions will soon not matter, I suspect it will not be because the liberals become conservative; rather, it will be because he thinks the conservatives will become 'progressive'. But of course this means that Neo either thinks the conservatives need to 'catch up with the times', or has at least the beginnings of a synthesis. Perhaps that is what some things later on are about (yes I have read ahead).

One student points out that evangelical churches are the fastest growing churches at that time, so Neo may be premature in saying they will soon die out. Neo claims that they are like the horse buggy in the early days of the automobile, and that a time is soon coming when the postmodern church will overtake and surpass the evangelical church, that this growth spurt is some kind of last gasp for evangelicalism.

This is, well, questionable, I think. For one thing, I think one could find many examples of 'next big things' that weren't as big as they turned out to be. One could think of the huge non-event that was Y2K. In religious circle, I think of the prophetic movement of a few years ago, which prophecied so much and delivered so little. This whole postmodernity and 'new kind of Christian' thing may be only another fad, for all that we know.

We still haven't seen much about what this 'new kind of Christian' will be like, or what Mclaren thinks it should be like. I have read the next few chapters, and I think they will open a bit more of it up to us.

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