Brian McLaren seems to stir up controversy in conservative evangelical circles. I have never thought of myself as being particularly “liberal” in my theology. However, since my teens, I have never felt comfortable holding strong and inflexible opinions on matters theological; at least those that fall outside of the group of truths that I considered essential to my faith in Jesus Christ. Among these was the essential belief that Jesus was the Son of God and because of his sacrificial love for me, my only hope for restoration of a relationship with God.
I am not a trained theologian so I guess that might account for some of my reticence to hold strong opinions on theological issues too.
When I come across criticism of McLaren’s books, I realize that I am probably not half as conservative as I thought. Most of what I have read of them rings true in my experience and is consistent with what I have come to believe.
I have just finished reading More Ready Than You Realize and I like what he says in this book about evangelism. Spiritual friendships are the ways God will use us to introduce others to Christ and help them along the way. McLaren also believes that it is in the context of a Christian community that people we have befriended will come to experience the fullness of a relationship with Jesus. And so we need to make room for new comers, new seekers, for those part way along the road to faith. What they see us modeling should be the motivation for them desiring to belong to Christ and to the community of faith.
“Sometimes belonging must precede believing…
Motivation by exclusion says something like this: We’re on the inside but you’re on the outside. We’re right, and you’re wrong. If you want to come inside, then you need to be right. So, just believe right, think right, speak right, and act right, and we’ll let you in..
…we need to move beyond motivation by exclusion. Our motivation by acceptance will say something like this: We are a community bound together and energized by faith, love, and commitment to Jesus Christ Even though you don’t yet share that faith, love, and commitment, you are most welcome to be with us, to belong here, to experience what we are about. Then, if you are attracted and persuaded by what you see, you’ll want to set down roots here long term. And even if you don’t, you’ll always be a friend.
This approach is more in sync with Jesus’ own example. He was criticized for being a “friend of sinner” – in other words he welcomed and accepted people who did not yet “believe right, think right, speak right, and act right.” But he knew something we need to know: if people can belong long enough to observe how God is alive among us, if they can belong long enough to see whatever good exists in our lives as individuals and as a community, they can come to believe.”(p84, 85)
It used to worry me that there had to be some definite point of conversion or it wasn’t genuine somehow. Experience has taught me otherwise. I think there are both gradual and sudden forms of recognition that Christ is real, is alive and is God. Both are valid. It is pretty rare to meet someone who has had a conversion experience outside of the nurturing of a Christian friend or community. And I think that is what this book is all about – opening our eyes to the fact that we need to cultivate these spiritual friendships that will bring others into Christ’s kingdom and encouraging us to get out there and start doing it.