Saturday, July 14, 2007

review 6--a different kind of christian

This or the next review will probably be the last one for this book for a while. I have to return it to the library this weekend. I've slowed down on it a good bit this past week, one reason being that the week before was a vacation week, the other being that I've been reading another, lighter, fantasy fiction book.

But, such as it is, let's march on.

It would be easy to open this with a couple of quotes by Neo taken from chapter 11.

"Where are these people coming from, calling themselves Christians..."

"The whole judgmental thing is so contrary to the Spirit of Christ."

Easy, yes, and maybe not without merit. But a bit facetious, too.

Writers are people. They can contradict themselves just as well as any of the rest of us. And I can be as facetious as anyone else.

Instead of trying to find some deep level of hypocracy, it may be better simply to see the first statement as being a rant, an uncharitable one to be sure, and some frustration peeking through, and not indicative of an ideal way of thinking which he may possess. It may be an example of inconsistency, but nothing more.

Anyway, there is more to this chapter. Actually, it may be best to go back to the end of chapter 10. It ends with Dan listening to a taped sermon of Neo, and for most of the first part of it it's not a bad sermon. It only goes strange, and which is where 11 picks up, is the idea that Heaven and Hell may actually be the same place, but preceived differently by different people. Neo tries to enlist C.S. Lewis into this position by referring to an admittedly controversial part at the end of the last Narnia book "The Last Battle".

I've read enough to Lewis to know that he firmly believed in Hell. Whether he believed in chances after death (one could maybe see that in "The Great Divorce", although he stresses in the intro that it is a work of fiction), or whether there is a chance for followers of other religions to find salvation, is not known to me. The portion Neo refers to may support such a claim, but also it should be pointed out that only one such follower made it to Narnia-heaven.

But I think it was Lewis as well who pointed out that a separation between Heaven and Hell was necessary. If unregenerated, unrepentent people where allowed into Heaven (such where I thought, if I remember correctly), then we would run into much the same problems we have here--that those who choose to follow the wrong paths and to be miserable and selfish will have won out, because they would make Heaven something not very heavenly. Such people would again trump those who did right and made the right decisions, because they would be able to 'rain on the parade', so to speak, of the righteous.

No, those who do not choose Christ have chosen something else, and to put them in Heaven is tantamount to making Heaven not-Heaven.

I tried to downplay one of Neo rants above, but there is at least one statement he makes which I can't ignore.

Dan--" sounded like you were saying that everyone goes to the same place, heaven, but experiences it differently, when Scripture makes it clear that there (are) two roads and two destination, two diffeent destination."

Neo--"...But seriously, Dan, don't you think that all the language about heaven and hell is evocative language, not technical description? I know that moderns don't have much capacity for poetry, having been enslaved to modern technical correctness for so long. But Jesus--Jesus was allowed to be evocative in his language..."

Yeah, poor moderns. We just don't get it, do we. Jesus talks about narrow and broad roads, sheep and goats, the 'joy of your lord' and outer darkness, Heaven and Hell, and we actually take him seriously, Sheesh, why didn't we think Jesus was having a coffee-house poetry-fest moment.

Yeah, yeah, I'm being facetious again. I'm trying to be fair, honest, but such blatant condescension on Neo's, no Mclaren's, part is quite distasteful to me. Especially over something so important, and so numerously and consistently displayed in Scripture. For such language to be blown of as 'evocative' or 'poetry' not understood by us modern literalists has me quite as worked up as Neo was a few times in this chapter.

I'm not going to brand Mclaren as something way-out-there simply because his few of the afterlife may be a bit different form mine. I haven't seen in this book where he is has said there is any other way but Christ. But I expect more then just putting the label 'modernist' on a person or idea, and that being considered enough to disregard it.

There is actually an interesting back-and-forth between Neo and Dan early in this chapter. Here are Dan's words

"...we have many cohabiting, unmarried couples attending our church, and we welcome them, even though we believe that sexual relationships should be reserved for marriage."

I remember reading, I think it was in one of the Corinthian epistles, where Paul recalls telling them to keep form someone who lived wildly, but then pointed out that he didn't mean that they should do so from those who were not believers. The idea seemed to be that we should expect better behavior from those who believe then form those who don't. Several of Paul's epistles had in them the correcting of the behaviors of some peoples in those churches.

How long such a state as Dan describes could last, I don't know. Eventually, topics of sin and marriage would come up, if the church teaches and preaches the truth, and such couples would be put in the bind, would have to make a decision.

There is one other part of the chapter I want to mention. Neo contends that the 'new kind of Christian' will see sin in different ways then us 'moderns' do.

"...Let's say we've got a black teenager in the inner city who just swiped the purse of a white secretary to get money for his drug habit. That's definitely a sin, right? OK. A new kind of Christian will agree, but he won't stop there. He'll also want ot look at the ways that the woman who is victimized by his crime actually contributes to the system that produces desperate teenage drug addicts. It's a system thing.

"...Ten years ago this violent drug addict was a kid, stuck in the city with nothing to do and not much hope for the future...To use Jesus' words, the boy was her neighbot, and he was in need, and she succeeded in crossing to the other side of the road for all of her life..."

One obvious point is that, we don't know what of woman the hypothetical victim is. All we know from this hypothetical situation is that she was a secretary robbed by a drug user, and that the drug user was black and she was white.

We don't know what kind of person she was, so we can't say that she acted pharisaical. She may have been callous. She may not have been. She may have been neighborly to the people in her neighborhood, she may not have been. She may have given to charity, or not. Heck, she may even have known the kid who robbed her and been friends with his mom, or not. She may have been a secretary at a charitable organization or church in the young man's neighborhood. She may have children, and the money he stole may mean her children would go hungry. To automatically assume she is some kind of non-caring Pharisees is itself a form of judgmentalism.

And what would such judgmentalism be based on? If she was black instead of white, would it be her fault that the druggie got into the mess he was in?

And what about his responsibility? Not every child raised in the inner city gets into drugs, though I would guess the percentage may be quite high. But 'peer pressure' does not excuse such actions. What about the leaders in his neighborhood? His family? What did they teach him? Was he taught to overcome hardships, and to have faith in God? Or was he taught he would always be someone's victim, so they own him?

To look at a real-life situation, I remember when I was in Atlanta, and going to a certain church (which last I heard had gone very strange, but at the time seemed ok). There was a man there who was friends with some of the inner-city kids who came to that church. They would sometimes come to his place. He was single, and lived alone, and had some stereo or sound equipment in his apartment that was rathe expensive. One day, some of those kids visited him, attacked and killed him, and stole his equipment.

So, was that man a system-sinner? I think not.

Finally, Neo ends the chapter by more-or-less accusing us 'modern' Christians of being like the pharisees, concerned only with the outward appearance. I say he's full of it, and has no idea of how these 'modern' Christians he's so keen on condemning really live.

Perhaps I should try for a bit more fairness. Mclaren, after all, ministers I think in the DC/Baltimore area. Perhaps being in that kind of environment, where power is all and appearance is reality, can cause one to think that all of us are like that.

If I had any advice for him, and for what it's worth, I would suggest he get away from that environment for a bit. Just as it seems that politicians who stay in DC to long lose touch with the people 'back home', so it seems Mclaren has lost touch with those of us outside of the Beltway. He needs to meet the common Christian in their native enviroment. I'm not naive enough to think he'll approve of all they would say or do, but he would at least know more about them, and be able to encourage and critique by their reality, not on the suppositions that he seemed to have in this book.

It would be interesting to read what he would think, for example, of a place like where I work, where many qualified people work for very little in the way of monetary gain to teach and minister to students from all over the world. Or of one church I attended a few years ago, which despite being a very small store-front church has people in it who work and minister at a crisis pregnancy center in a small college town, and the church is one of the main supporters of that center. Or of the church I've been going to recently, which recently sent short-term missionary teams to a couple of places in the world. Or of the church I went to last year, which is very pro-active in witnessing and sharing Christ.