Wednesday, July 05, 2006

mclaren's new book: already i'm skeeved out

today, i received my review copy of mclaren's new book, Jesus' Great Big Secret (or something like that.)

i want to like mclaren, i do. he's a man who asks questions and i've always thought that by asking questions, at least you're not some guy's patsy. i also admire the effort it takes to rear up against a heavy orthodoxy like christianity; i admire the guts it takes to bear the brunt of criticism (since i do it so badly.)

but i tried to get through his book A Generous Orthodoxy and i confess i only made it halfway. i tried twice and each time, i failed. it was too muzzy. the book made me feel like i was drinking a glass of old wine. (and, let's face it - i thought it was boring. i mean, i've muddled through french feminist theory and this was worse than that.)

i fear his new one is even muzzier (though shorter.) already, in just the few pages of his introduction, i'm feeling the old fundamentalist in me squirm uncomfortably when he says:

They - I should say 'we' - feel that there's a missing puzzle piece without which the big picture won't snap into place. There's a hidden door somewhere behind a curtain or bookcase, and through that door there are rooms we've never imagined.

They - we - have this hunch that there's a secret we don't yet get. (xiii)

um, no. while i will cop to the fact that there are mighty things i question, there are aspects of doctrine (regarding sexuality and gender) that make the 21st century subject in me go, Hmmm - while there's all that, i do not doubt that my faith (and the basis of my faith) is complete.

he writes that his dissatisfaction is prompted by an 'intuition' that there is something more to jesus' message; i am curious to know what exactly is insufficient about christ's message now? why the need for an extrasensory perception when we're supposed to have the gift of the Holy Spirit?

and then this leads me to wonder what's missing so that mclaren needs all this extra stuff to fill it.

is it naive to just hold onto the sufficiency of His grace?
in the middle of all the things that throw me into doubt, this is the only thing that relieves me.

in the back of my mind i am hearing my dad's voice: 'apostate! heretic!'
i won't go so far as that (i'm only on page 25, after all) but i'll admit that there are red flags popping up and bells ringing all over the place as i read this.

i'll share more, of course, as i go through. and it's interesting i'm having this reaction - me, the woman who'd rather chew glass than go back to being an evangelical baptist.


greg said...

I confess that I have no intention of reading this book because I object to the whole premise: Why should Jesus' message have to contain a "secret" in order to be interesting? Why can't it just be very, very difficult for us mere mortals to understand? Why can't it just be impossible for us to understand fully and completely? No secrets; just the fact that God is way bigger than we will ever be or can ever understand. Why is that so hard to accept?

ding said...

mclaren's hunger for the quest puts me in mind of the crusaders, always pushing forward for the grail when it's really not necessary.

i'm really curious to know what's so unsatisfying. i can understand his criticism of the church to be more authentic to christ's message - rather than focus on strictures of behavior (because behavior means crap) focus on living the mission in a real and radical way.

that is a valuable criticism and desire to be made of our current american christianity.

and i think mclaren's argument to consider the public ramifications of christ's message is a good one, as well. by making our mission as christians just a private/individualistic one (my christian faith is just about getting right with God and being the most perfect christian i can) we fail to think about how christ's message can work in the public sphere.

however, that makes me wary, too. isn't that what we progressives of faith are warning conservatives about? haven't we been leery of blurring the line between public and private confessions of faith and public policy that stems from it?

is mclaren advocating for a progressive theocracy? (of course, that's almost a facetious question since i'm only on page 25, but it's an interesting one.)

Xpatriated Texan said...

I read McLaren's book a month or two ago - I don't remember exactly. Having not read anything by him previously, I didn't have any expectations about what I'd find. Maybe that's a positive - based on what you said about his earlier work.

Having read a lot of political science books, I felt pretty at-home with McLaren. His approach is fairly academic and high-brow - not much touchy-feely stuff. The case that he's making - and I don't think it's about forming a progressive theocracy - is built stone by stone by stone.

It may never interest you. There's certainly no harm in that. I think the "secret" to which he alludes to is more like what political scientists refer to a a "puzzle" (terminology that I HATE). It is something that is plainly there if you look at it, but our preconceptions tend to get in the way. His goal is to slowly remove those misconceptions until he reveals what he believes is the "answer" to the "secret".

I will say, however, that while I found the book stimulating and academically tantalizing, it was also somewhat unsatifying. In my opinion, he stopped just short of the uncomfortable truth he has met in his studies and waits for you to take the final step.


ding said...

(long time, no see, XT!)

i can see what you're saying about his method; as an ex-academic i recognize how he's building his argument.

but as an ex-academic (and literature major who picks up on the language he's using and how he's using it) i also get the feeling that when i get to mclaren's big 'reveal,' there's not going to be a whole lot behind that curtain.