Reviews: A New Kind of Christianity … Christianity Today, Part 2

Continued from Part 1
Part 2:
In A New Kind of Christianity, I raise ten questions that I believe Christians in all our traditions need to hear, ponder, and engage in respectful conversation. I explain why these questions need to be raised, sketch out some of the responses that they are eliciting from me and others, and emphasize the need for positive ongoing engagement with them.
When the evangelical flagship magazine CT reviewed the book, I expected the review to be less than enthusiastic, and I imagined most of the online responses to the review would be of a similar tone, since most of the people who would feel the need for this kind of project wouldn’t be among its core readership.
I’ve had the chance to spend a few hours now reading through a couple hundred responses to the review … (continued after the jump)

… on the websites of CT and the reviewer Dr. Scot McKnight. I was heartened by a wider diversity of responses than I expected, but I was struck by how many of the commenters were prone to problematize me or the book, and in so doing, to avoid grappling with the ten questions it raises. It’s certainly appropriate for people to find things in the book to disagree with or critique – with all due vigor and passion – but I hope they won’t stop there.
I’m just one person, and my book speaks only for me, but the questions it addresses are being raised by thousands of people, including many of the spouses and friends, children and grandchildren, neighbors and coworkers of the people who read CT.
If those who ask these questions in evangelical contexts are treated with suspicion and hostility rather than hospitality, then inquisitive people will only be able to find responsible and open conversation partners outside of the evangelical community. Sadly, this has been the experience of many people. As someone who loves the evangelical community and hopes it will have a vibrant future (as I explained in Part 1 of this response), I hope the opportunity presented by these questions will be seized by many evangelicals – an opportunity for relaxed (or at least non-tense) and hospitable (or at least non-hostile) conversation.
Some of my non-evangelical friends think this is an unrealistic hope. But in my travels I’ve seen how much frustration is fomenting beneath the surface in the evangelical world, from Indiana to India, from Wheaton to Santiago, from Seattle to South Africa, and from Colorado Springs to Seoul, Korea. That’s why I am so appreciative of CT and Scot McKnight – and many other wonderful evangelical leaders like him – for opening space for this kind of needed dialogue. They take a risk in doing so and are sometimes criticized for not being hard/harsh enough on people with whom they disagree. I hope they will never be discouraged by the criticism, because they’re doing something that’s tremendously important and needed. God bless them!
These questions may not yet be topics of open discussion in many of the seminaries, magazines, or blogs that would be in CT’s normal circle of influence. But I’ve heard them being raised independently in hundreds of emails and conversations by thousands of people around the world, especially the young, especially the college-educated, and especially those who have traveled extensively beyond the borders of their own subculture.
Surprisingly high numbers of the people asking these questions are inside the faith, trying to stay in. But try as they might, they can’t suppress second thoughts about the answers they’ve been given to date to these questions. And unless we help them, they’ll soon be on their way out. Even more of the people asking these questions are outside the faith, trying to find their way in. But unsatisfying answers to these questions are blocking their path.
This is my twelfth book, and the first round of positive responses to A New Kind of Christianity are by far the most enthusiastic I’ve ever received. But as the CT review and many responses to it make clear, the book is terribly unsatisfying for some good evangelical people. I’m glad they’re making their opinions known, but I hope at least some of them will go beyond a natural first reflex – performing a simple same-different test that goes like this: we know that we are right and we are orthodox, and this book is different from us, so it must be wrong and sub-orthodox. Case closed. In so doing, they will miss the chance to engage with questions that deserve their attention.
I hope they will seize this opportunity rather than pass it by – if not for their own personal good, then for the good of their faith community and its God-given mission.
So after those who dislike and disagree with the book have done a good job of explaining why they dislike and disagree with it – which is again important and right for them to do, I do hope they’ll also take the conversation a level deeper by saying, “OK, so let’s look at this narrative question. By what narrative are we reading the Bible, and does it matter whether this narrative is inherent to the Bible itself? Are there better options? Is the Bible intended to be interpreted as a constitution? What do we mean when we say Jesus is the Word of God, and how does the authority of Jesus relate to the authority of other parts of Scripture? Do we think that God is violent? Should that popular portrait of a violent second-coming Jesus derived from Revelation push the non-violent Jesus of the Gospels off the table? And how do we relate Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom of God with what we read in the Book of Romans?” And so on.
Whatever people think of this book or its author isn’t really important. But the questions raised in A New Kind of Christianity are important. They won’t be easily dismissed or suppressed, especially among followers of Christ who take evangelism and disciple-making seriously, as I do. That commitment to evangelism and disciple-making brings us back again and again to 1 Peter 3:15, which is a call to listen carefully to the questions being raised about the reason for our hope, always responding with gentleness and respect, honoring Christ as Lord. My book is my heartfelt response to that call, a call that I know is passionately shared by many readers of CT.