Growing up in a Christian home I eventually, like most kids, began to question the faith I had been taught. Some stories of questioning begin with taking a biology class and learning about evolution. This was never a problem for me. I always figured that the truth of falsity of evolution had little to do with the central claims of Christian faith. For me the questions always revolved around other religions.
If I believe Jesus is the savior of the world, is unique, what does this say about other world religions and religious figures?
If there is only one God, how come there are so many religions?
Can people of different religions ever learn to live together in the world?
It was questions such as these which led me to major in religious studies at Penn State. And it is questions such as these that lead me to pick up books such as Brian McLaren’s Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Muhammad Cross the Road?
Brian McLaren is one of those authors that causes me to get nervous as I write a review of their books. If I say positive things, some Christians will assume I have gone down the same path of apostasy that they say Brian has, a path that will lead to hell. If I say negative things, other Christians will assume I am just a closed-minded fundamentalist who thinks I am one of the lucky few who get to go to heaven. The truth is that I enjoy reading McLaren’s books because they make me think and question my own assumptions. I am less and less interested in reading books that just reinforce what I already and have always believed.
This book is McLaren on how Christians ought to relate to followers of other religions. He sees a problem in the Christian church. Those who have a strong Christian identity, who are unquestionably orthodox, often are very hostile to outsiders. But those who are kind to outsiders often water down their Christian faith to such an extent that there is not much “Christian” about it. McLaren seeks a Christian identity that is both strong and kind. He does this with sections on doctrine, liturgy and mission.
I imagine that those who are already fans of McLaren will enjoy this book while those who see him as a false teacher will not like this book. Personally, after finding much to like in many of McLaren’s books I did not like his A New Kind of Christianity (I think I gave it 2 stars out of five) so my expectations for this were not high. That said, I found this book mostly helpful, challenging and encouraging. McLaren correctly identifies the problem that most of us Christians (and really, most humans) find our identity in what we are against. In other words, “we” are right and “they” are wrong,” or, “they” are the problem which needs to be changed or fixed. McLaren’s argument is that Jesus frees us from this hostile attitude and sends us in the world to reach out to the other in love and friendship. He says that the world does not need Christians to abandon their faith, it needs Christians to take their faith even more seriously.
What if we Christians took our faith, took Jesus more seriously? What if we really did seek to love our enemies, even to the point of dying for them as Jesus did?
What if instead of trying to change everybody into clones of ourselves, we sought to serve and bless others as Jesus did?
Those are the sorts of questions I take away from this book and for that I am grateful.