Category Archive: Christian Life
The other day, I read Brian McLaren’s recent Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices. On the whole, I thought it was weak, though (as with other McLaren books I’ve read) with occasional moments of insight — almost totally marred for me by the sort of syncretism that produces lines like this all through the book: “Although written by a Christian primarily for Christians, this initial book in the series extends our acknowledgment to unreligious people as well as to adherents of all three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam” (6). That’s not just a one-time thing in this book; repeatedly, McLaren speaks as if Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all more or less on the right path and as if the practices he presents in this book — fixed-hour prayer, fasting, Sabbath, the sacred meal, pilgrimage, observance of sacred seasons, and giving — will help Jews become better Jews, Christians better Christians, and Muslims better Muslims. Sigh.
I’m not going to review the book. But credit where credit is due. I did appreciate this illustration, and so I’m preserving it here:
If your goal is to produce firefighters and rescue workers, you have to produce people willing to enter burning buildings. They do this not because they love fire, but because they hate it, and they despise the damage it can do to people and their dreams. Their hatred of fire and their love of safety draws them toward fire and danger. Contrast this to two other kinds of people: pyromaniacs (or arsonists) and pyrophobes. Pyromaniacs love fires and the damage they cause, and so start them. Pyrophobes fear fires and avoid them at any cost.
Similarly, if your goal is to produce doctors and health care workers, you have to produce people willing to get close to disease. They do this not because they love disease, but because they hate it and despise the damage that disease can do to people and their dreams. Their hatred of disease and their love of health draw them close to sickness, seeking to understand it in order to treat it. They aren’t like a careless sex addict who has HIV and doesn’t care whom he infects, nor are they like a person with OCD who is constantly driven by a fear of germs to wash her hands a hundred times a day and avoid anyone and anything that could possibly infect her. In contrast, health care workers are willing to get up close and personal with disease, but they do so in order to fight disease and promote health (69-70).
McLaren goes on to say “My concern is that by making heaven after this life the destination of our way” — I would want to say: “By focusing predominantly on going to heaven when we die or on being raptured out of this world” — “we are spiritually forming people who run away from fire, disease, and the violence of our world” (71).
That is, we produce people who are, in a sense, germaphobes instead of doctors, people who fear the evil in the world and withdraw from engagement with it and hope that they’ll escape from it somehow instead of people who hate the evil and go on to do something about it — by prayer, by the gospel, and by deeds of love and mercy.
Another parable by Doug Wilson from a few years back:
When David was preparing to meet the Philistine giant Goliath, we are fortunate that he did not have his marketing agent with him.And David said, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”
And his agent said, “David, I really do not think that this language is suitable for an already polarized situation. Being uncircumcised — that is merely their custom. And although his language is perhaps provocative, it becomes us as Christians to rise above this. We need to be building bridges, not walls.”
But David ignored his marketing agent, just as he had ignored his brothers, and went and selected five, smooth stones from the brook. Goliath advanced out into the place between the two armies, his armor bearer with him. David walked out toward him, his agent tagging along behind, plucking worriedly at his sleeve.
“David, remember your musical and literary gifts. How can you expect to finish all the psalms that God has given you if you put it all at risk in this way? I am concerned not only that you may die, but also that, if you live, you may have quenched that gift by your pugnacious behavior.”
And then Goliath taunted David once more, saying that he would feed him to the birds. “Now, David,” said the agent hurriedly, “remember to let your speech be gracious, seasoned with salt.”
But David said that he had come in the name of the Lord of armies. “This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will use your carcass to feed the birds and all wild beasts.”
“O dear,” said the agent, “that is essentially the same thing that Goliath said. You are returning evil for evil. We are called to be peacemakers, David. Remember the oil in Aaronâ€™s beard. Think of what you are throwing away!”
“A stone,” David said. “Watch this.”