Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Is Brian McLaren arguing against a Caricature?

One of Scott McKnights criticisms of Brian McLaren's latest book is that his "Soul-sort Narrative" is a caricature and doesn't exist in any reputable form, or even more strongly only exists in the mind of Brian McLaren. Over at the Christiannonduality blog (side note I find it humorous that the tag line of the blog itself sets up a duality between Thinking/proposing and imagining/participating, a duality I find at best inaccurate and at worst false) JB posts a brief response to Mcknight's post. Oddly enough JB begins his response saying that McLaren is not in A New Kind of Christianity (ANKoC) "describing mainline Christianity". This is an interesting point to make as a response to Mcknight because McKnight himself is not speaking about "Mainline Christianity", at least not in the common use of that word, but "Evangelicalism". In the midst of this banter over the use of labels I continue to wonder what exactly is McLaren addressing. For McKnight McLaren's target is Evangelicalism and thus his complaint that essentially what McLaren critiques is a caricature. This thought I think connects up with what JB points out as Mclaren's rhetorical strategies of hyperbole and sweeping generalizations to map things out. In my view it is these rhetorical strategies that make difficult identify with any precision what sort of existing or formerly existing form of Christianity Mclaren is actually talking about as he describes the belief about its god "Theos" (BTW surely Brian knows that "theos" is the Greek word used for God in the NT right?!). Jb limits McLaren's target to Fundamentalism, which is what I have said elsewhere, but McKnight takes him to have a broader target,which is Evangelicalism beyond and inclusive of Fundamentalism.

Though based on various reviews I have read it does seem that in his broad mapping McLaren is including "Mainline Christianity" at least in its being "Western Christianity". Perhaps JB wants to say that "Mainline Christianity" has come out of and away from what McLaren critiques. But I wonder then is JB wishing to appropriate McLaren but saying the critique applies to others but not JB's Christianity? JB feels McLaren is on target but critiquing those other Christians. McKnight feels he has caricatured what he critiques and asserts that McLaren's target is Evangelicalism in particular but that McLaren's "soul-sort narrative" doesn't describe actual Evangelicalism. though he also interprets that McLaren's target includes "mainline" or at least the historic theological tradition of the mainstream of Christian faith.

My suspicion is that the difficulty here is that McLaren has a particular form of Christianity in mind (perhaps what he initially taught as he started Cedar Ridge Community Church, I don't know) but that he then blames on and identifies with broader historical antecedents. Its this later move that I think JB is talking about when he talks about McLaren as mapping a a very rough trajectory. Thus while JB praises McLaren's rhetoric I find this rhetoric the very thing that unravels his argument as he knits it together. In a sense if JB is correct here, McLaren as cartographer has whole contents in view and he is pretty good at giving the general outline of the continents with the necessary distortions to the actuality for the sake of presenting something which is three dimensional in two dimensions. However, McLaren doesn't seem to actually think of himself as a cartographer of contents giving us a "satellite view" of the continent. McLaren wants to be writing guide books to how to get around France and Paris: telling us the best places to stay, what to avoid etc. But really to get around France and Paris I don't need the satellite view. I don't need to see from above (google maps satellite is interesting but I never found it helpful as a means to know what to expect on the ground when finding my way to a new place), nor sweeping generalizations about terrain and the character of the French people. If your offering me a guide book you better know the place backwards and forwards not simply a combination of one corner of Paris and the map of all of France and the continent of Europe. My suspicion of McLaren is that he knows a particular corner of Paris really well and certain provinces of France very near Paris, and then from that wants to extrapolate from that narrow experience to the entire city of Paris and the whole of France. Perhaps as JB says this is simply what is done when trying to do what Mclaren is doing, after all we can't know experientially the whole of Christian reality, and our interpretation of the history of Christianity will be colored by how you have experienced it. However, McLaren's rhetoric crosses out the inscription of his particular experience and overwrites it with an "objective" account of the history of the "soul-sort narative.", as having an actual history through time that has been taught as official doctrine, not just something some form of contemporary Christians may believe. I know there are Christians that believe something like his "soul-sort narative." but I am with Mcknight in questioning its actual extent even while finding McKnight's assertion that it doesn't actually exist at all. So, i think I'd agree that his "soul sort-narrative" is a caricature, a caricature that some currently may be acting out.