The Story We Find
of a New Kind of Christian
Brian D. McLaren
Jossey-Bass; 1st edition
(March 28, 2003)
Kind of Christian
Emerging "Christianity" - Part
Breaking Out of the box
is "the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in the
Washington-Baltimore area and the author of two previous books on
contemporary Christianity, including The Church on the Other Side:
Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix.
"A blessing of a book that can alter your view of yourself, your church
and your world." Len Sweet, Staley E. Jones Chair of Evangelism, Drew
McLaren's fictional dialogues demonstrate how
the postmodern thinking and culture were created. The dialectic process
and the standard ground rules for facilitated small groups prompt people
to adapt to the following stages:
- Persuade people
to set aside their own assumptions and suspend their personal
empathically to the opposite view in a friendly setting -- then (in
order to be nice and get along with others) ...
- Choose to be
open-minded, willing to respect and empathize with the contrary and
- Consider all
positions valid and worthwhile, even if it means altering or
abandoning former convictions
- Pick and choose
from each one what best fits your own preferences at the moment
Since most of the
issues have no clear cut obvious answer that would please
everyone, few can or will argue that point or take a strict position.
You just consider all the sides and call then all valid -- which prompts
a group member to involuntarily look and walk beyond his earlier
To better understand the
following dialogue concerning the significance of the cross, please read
Recovering the Scandal of
Liberalism: Disdaining the Cross
The most ancient theory is often
called the 'ransom' theory. This view says that we humans, through
our sin, placed ourselves under the authority of Satan." I didn't
notice that Kerry squirmed when I said "Satan," but Carol told me
later that she did. "Jesus comes and offers himself as a ransom for
us. He says to Satan, "If I give you myself, will you set them
free?' Satan agrees to the bargain, and so he takes, tortures, and
kills Jesus, whose self-sacrifice sets us free. Of course, in the
end, God double-crosses Satan--pardon the pun--by raising Jesus from
the dead. So Satan is double the loser, and we're set free to live
for and with God again."
"Sorry," Kerry said, but that one
makes even less sense to me than Carol's. I mean, no offense, but do
you really believe in Satan? And why would God be making deals with
the devil anyway?"
"Now I was a bit flustered. I
emphasized my belief that Satan really exists, but quickly assured
Kerry that I didn't believe that Satan is a pitch-fork-carrying guy
with horns on his head.... I seemed to make a little headway with
her when I said that since evil is a uniquely personal trait, it
can't just be an impersonal fore, but has to be understood as a
"I can see your point, I really can,"
Kerry said. "But wouldn't it be a little more helpful to see
personal evil as analogous to a computer virus, something that
attaches itself to the software of our personality and works it way
in and then... wow, I guess this language really works... it
corrupts ? I mean, if you're saying that Satan is a personification
of evil in that way, I could see that."
"I shook my head... but Neo stepped
in. "Just a minute, Dan. I think Kerry might be onto something here.
You know, if you go back into the most ancient parts of the Old
Testament, there is not concept of Satan. That idea comes along much
later. It seems to have been borrowed from t he Zoroastrians,
actually. Maybe it's no sin to think of Satan as a metaphor--a
horribly real metaphor for a terribly real force in t eh universe,
mind you. I think it would be a terrible sin to dismiss Satan a
something stupid or inconsequential.
"What about the Garden of Eden?"
Carol shot back. "Who tempted Eve?"
"Actually, " Neo replied, in the
story itself, the tempter is never referred to as Satan, just as a
snake. Later on, of course--"
I interrupted Neo, as I could see a
major argument brewing between Carol and him. "UI think we're
getting off on a bit of tangent. This discussion on Satan is
important, but I was going through the theories of atonement,
remember? We're all agreed that evil is a personal phenomenon,
something very real and very, very dangerous....
So the ransom theory says that Jesus
offered himself to be ravaged by evil in its most horrific, personal
form, and that his self-giving somehow turns evil back on itself and
"It sounds a bit like some
matter-antimatter thing in science fiction," Kerry offered, trying
to be helpful. "You know, an act of absolute goodness and
selflessness somehow nullifies evil and selfishness."
"Good point, " I said politely and
maybe a little falsely, since I really had little idea what she
meant by mater-antimatter, not being a fan of science fiction
myself. "What you just described may actually make a bit more sense
of the 'substitutionary' theory.... In that theory, God's merciful
act of absolute goodness and selflessness in giving himself through
Jesus on the cross satisfies or cancels out or absorbs God's just
anger about human evil and selfishness."...
I moved on. "Anyway, a third
theory--and this is really the most dominant theory thought church
history--is called the 'Christus Victor' theory. In the ransom
theory, the enemy is Satan, who has us as prisoners or kidnap
victims, and Jesus' self-giving springs us free. In the
substitutionary theory, the enemy, so to speak, is God's just wrath
at our sin, and Jesus' death absorbs God's wrath. In the Christus
Victory theory, our enemy is death. By entering into and overcoming
death, Jesus opened the door for us to enter eternal life."
"This is helping," Kerry said. "Just
knowing that it's not some simple formula. I like the idea of these
window, Dan. You said there were six?"
"Yes. OK. Next, there's the 'perfect
penitent' theory. This theory acknowledge the question your
raised before: 'If God wants to forgive us, why doesn't he just do
so?' And the real answer this theory gives is that forgiveness, for
it to be legitimate and real, requires and expression of sincere
repentance from the wrongdoer."
"And?" Kerry asked.
"And none of us are very good at
repenting. None of us can repent sincerely or fully, because deep
down, a part of us, at least, still loves to sin. Our best
repentance is always ambivalent, partial, holding back. so this
theory sees Jesus' acceptance of death--after all, he could have
escaped any number of ways--as his enacting, on behalf of the whole
human race, perfect repentance for us. He becomes a representative
of all humanity and willingly submits himself to being condemned and
punished on our account, in spite of his true innocence, as a way of
acting our real repentance for the human race.'
"I've never heard of that one," Kerry
Neither have I, and I'm a pure-bred
Baptist form Atlanta!' Carol added.
I continued. "It was the view
preferred by D. S. Lewis, ...He had problems with the
substitutionary atonement theory for the same reason you do. Anyway,
there's also what some people call the 'moral influence' theory,
although I think that the name is too limiting. In this theory, the
cross demonstrates Jesus' self-giving, his complete abandonment to
God's will, his complete self-devotion for the sake of the word.
Jesus' death completes the whole message of his life: he makes
visible the self-giving love of God. When that sacrificial love
touches us, we are changed internally--'constrained' is the word
Paul uses for it-- so that we want to stop being selfish, and we
want to join God in self-giving, beginning by giving ourselves
back to God, a and leading us to give ourselves to our neighbors and
the world too. It's as if Jesus invites us into his self-giving. He
gives himself to God, for the sake of the whole world, and he
invites us into his devotion, both to God and for the world."
"What's the enemy in that view?"
"I guess it's our own selfishness,
our own lack of love," I replied.
"I think I like that one best," Kerry
said. "It reminds me of the whole idea of calling, of deciding to
get back on God's side, joining God in the creative, saving process
and abandoning the selfish and destructive process, you know? So
maybe by coming to us in such pure, vulnerable goodness and then
letting us kill him, Jesus is showing us, not just individually, but
as a whole human race, how destructive our selfish ways are. ... But
I thought you said there are six views. I've been counting on my
fingers here, and that's only five."
"Maybe the were only five, then....
Well, I'm not sure what to name this,
but it's one I've been thinking about," Neo said. "Let's call it the
'powerful weakness' theory, or maybe the 'foolish wisdom' theory. It
hinges on exactly the word you just used, Kerry--'vulnerable.'
It works like this; by becoming vulnerable on the cross, by
accepting suffering from everyone, Jews and Romans alike, rather
than visiting suffering on everyone, Jesus is showing God's loving
hearth, which wants forgiveness, nor revenge, for everyone. Jesus
shows us that the wisdom of God's kingdom is sacrifice, not
violence. It's about accepting suffering and transforming it into
reconciliation, not avenging suffering through retaliation. So
through this window, the cross shows God's rejection of the human
violence and dominance and oppression that have spun the world in a
cycle of crises....