Reading Reflections

Reading Reflections #5 – Church on the Other Side

church_on_the_other_side.jpg Church on the Other Side by Brian McLaren

The lowdown:  This is an older book by the ever controversial Brian McLaren.  It was originally published in 1998 under the title “Reinventing Your Church”, but was reissued sometime in the last three years or so under this title.  It is basically an argument that churches and ministries will look different “on the other side of the postmodern matrix.”   

Why I read it:   To be honest, I really like reading Brian McLaren’s work.  The first book of his I read was “The Story We Find Ourselves In”, one of his novels about Christianity and postmodernity, which I didn’t find too interesting.  As I started to get into some of his other works, I felt like I resonated with him…not so much in his contents or his conclusions, but in his methodology of genuine questioning and searching.  I appreciate his intelligent analysis, his honesty, but above all his humility in approaching sensitive subjects.  So…I picked up Church on the Other Side to get his thoughts on…the church…on the other side.

What I got out of it:  I think this book, more than any other he’s written, has a good straightforward description of how he perceives the transition into postmodernity, and the characteristics of “postmoderns.”  He has three chapters focused on this, entitled “Understand It”, “Engage It”, and “Get Ready for Revolution.”  Unlike many critics of McLaren and postmodernity, McLaren makes it clear that he doesn’t think postmodernity is altogether a bad thing or a good thing:  it is simply a thing that must be dealt with by the church.  In on section, he talks about how many “moderns” believe that you must first attempt to convince postmoderns of a modern belief system (focusing on propositional truth, absolutes) before you can talk to them about Christ, but this book, I believe, attempts to convince the reader that instead of first convincing the postmodern to think “modernly”, why not instead just learn to convey the truth (even the absolute Truth) in a way that a postmodern thinker would understand. 

One phrase that I liked is that “postmoderns” don’t reject absolutes, and that to say that one sign of a postmodern or Emergent thinker is that they reject absolute truth is just wrong.  McLaren argues instead that what the postmodern struggles with is “absolute knowledge.”  They don’t necessarily doubt that there is truth that is absolute, and that the Bible is the source of that absolute truth, but that to claim to understand that truth absolutely is impossible given the human condition, prone to error and misunderstanding.  I thought the distinction between truth and knowledge was interesting and challenging.

Chapter nine focuses on leadership, and what church leadership might look like in order to best reach a church culture in the 21st century.  McLaren focuses on the need for authentic and entrepreneurial leadership, and criticizes attempts to recreate the successes of others (using the models of Saddleback, Willow, etc – he praises the creativity of Warren and Hybels, but doesn’t think others should attempt to build a replica of what has already been done). 

Whenever I read McLaren, I always get a strong feeling that he has a deep and authentic love for Christ, the Bible, and the Church.  I guess I’m always a bit surprised when I find out that a lot of people don’t see this at all in his writing, and instead criticize him for a lack of solid Christian doctrine…which he has never really set out to write about in any of his books as far as I’ve been able to tell.  Who knows…

Should you read this book?:  Whenever someone is asking me a lot of questions about postmodern Christianity, Emergent vs. emerging, relativism and belief, etc, I usually recommend a Brian McLaren book or two.  This book is more geared toward someone active in institutional ministry, but I think it has a great outline/explanation for what it means to be “postmodern” and what people being “postmodern” means for the church. 

There is definitely stuff in the book that I didn’t agree with, or that many would find controversial.  But I would definitely challenge people to read it and engage with the controversy.  My biggest criticism of those who criticize McLaren is that I’ve yet to find someone who truly engages with what McLaren has actually said.  There is a host of critics who jump on him for what he hasn’t said.  (if you disagree with this, let me know – I might have missed a critique or two or ten) I might just be an optimist, though, and tend to give him the benefit of the doubt in a lot of areas because of the evidence I see for his love of Christ and the church. 

So, yeah…if you are involved in ministry, have questions about postmodernity/Emergent/McLaren and want to be challenged, I would definitely recommend this book.

As with any of these reviews, if you’ve read the book or other similar books, I’m always interested in hearing what you loved, learned, or hated from it. 

Next up:  Still not sure what I’m going to finish next.  I am finishing up Unstoppable Force soon, but I’m also working on a history of American fundamentalism (another book by Marsden), and planning on reading Of Mice and Men for a break from non-fiction.  So we’ll see what I finish next. 


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