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Reformed or Deformed?
This is the second in a series of three responses to Brian McLaren's influential book, A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey (Jossey-Bass). The previous issue [January/February] featured a response by Andy Crouch; the series will conclude in our May/June issue with a response by Tony Jones, author of Postmodern Youth Ministry, and reflections by McLaren, who is already at work on a sequel.
Let me come clean at the outset. I picked up this book with some wariness, assuming that I would be a critical friend of its perspective. After finishing the book and reflecting on it, I would call myself a friendly critic, finding it less helpful than I would have hoped and more dangerous than I would have thought.
This book is an account of a journey out of that kind of reactionary conservatism that acts as if it is already in possession of all answers to all questions—as if omniscience were one of God's communicable attributes. McLaren has chosen to write his suggestive critique in the form of a fictional dialogue between two characters: Dan Poole, a middle-aged pastor, weary of external trials and internal questions, and Neil Edward Oliver, a high school teacher (himself a former pastor) who serves as Pastor Dan's sherpa guide into the inviting wilds of postmodernity.This second character is called—acronymically—"Neo" throughout (perhaps with a nod to the protagonist of The Matrix). Yes, he really is. This well prepares the reader for the subtlety that marks the book.
Questions of literary merit are best left to others. Just know that I had the temptation to review the book with a Peter Kreeft-like dialogue between J. Gresham Machen and Father Stephanie, rector of the nearby Church of the Holy Inarticulate Conception. But I resisted.
Certainly truth can come in the garb of fiction. This is no new insight of our narrative-loving age. From the brief parables of Jesus to Erasmus' In Praise of Folly and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, works of fiction have ...