By Aaron Gaglia (@GagliaAC)
A few weeks ago, I started reviewing Brian McLaren’s book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World. After a bit of a delay, here is the rest of the review. As I covered the first two parts in the previous review, I will resume with part III, “The Liturgical Challenge.”
In part III, Mclaren seeks to remove “[t]he vestiges of Imperial Christianity” from the church’s praxis. “Racism, colonialism, exclusivism, elitism, and other members of the hostility family often hide camouflaged in songs and hymns, devotionals and prayers, sermons and Sunday School lessons” (168). He begins with the church calendar. He proposes such changes as devoting Holy Saturday to doubt, “the day at which we listen to agnostics and atheists and remind them, and us, that they too have a place among the people of God” (174).
He then reformulates the sacrament of Baptism as “a sign that one is repenting of all hostile identities, knowing that those identities can only lead to violent cataclysm” (185). He sees this type of baptism as John the Baptist’s reformulation of temple baptism. Citing the work of Peter Rollins, he sees being immersed into Christ as not receiving a new identity but rather the removal of all identity (citing Galatians 3:28). “To follow Christ is to share in his radical divestment of identity” (186).
He then calls for a reformulation of Christian teaching, songs, and Holy Scripture itself. “We must have the humble courage to side with some verses, prayers, and other liturgical resources and against others—not in an oppositional or a hostile way, but in a constructive, identity-forming way” (192). In speaking of Scripture, he cites Jesus’ and Paul’s quotations of the Hebrew Scripture as proof of picking and choosing, of a reformulation of the Scripture in light of the Gospel. “We will pick all passages that advocate hostility, vengeance, exclusion, elitism, and superiority to remind us of where we would be and who we would be if not for Christ. And we will choose all passages that advocate reconciliation, empathy, inclusion, solidarity, and equality to remind us of where we are going and who we are called to be in Christ—a precious identity indeed” (207).
He then reformulates the Lord’s Supper away from seeing Christ’s death as a sacrifice–away from “the gospel of penal substitutionary atonement”–to seeing his death as “the sacred self-giving of a gracious God” (210, 212). Thus through the Lord’s Supper, “we identify with it [Christ’s death], and we let our lives be reshaped by it into cruciformity so as to lay down our lives for others just as Jesus did for us all” (214). Though it is very important to see the cross as “sacred self-giving”, we cannot do this at the expense of understanding the cross as an atoning sacrifice.
Mclaren then ends the book with part IV, The Missional Challenge. In this section, he reformulates the mission of a Christian—how they live and interact with the world—in terms of love and solidarity with the other. His comments on the reformulation of evangelism sum up the spirit of these chapters. Calling Christians to a mutual conversion with the other, he writes, “This shared journey is not the call to convert from your religion to mine. It is, rather, the invitation for both of us to seek a deeper conversion that begins in our deepest religious identity and transforms all of life…We still cherish our distinctive religious identity, but we abandon what my friend Samir Selmanovic calls religious supremacy. We are converted from hostility, from seeing the other as a threat to be feared, pitied, eliminated, or refashioned into our image. We are converted into hosts and guests, practicing and receiving hospitality, sharing our treasures as gifts “(256, emphasis original).
Though this section, especially chapter 24 on “subversive friendship” presents some inspiring thoughts on multi-faith relations, sadly this model calls for interfaith relationships at the expense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Mclaren presents the church with something that is much needed, but simultaneously removes the very truths that makes up the essence of Christianity. St. Paul makes it very clear in his second letter to the Corinthians that one of our roles as Christians is the role of Ambassador: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:20-21, ESV). Yet we must remember also that our religion is worthless without love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). We must be Christians who are characterized by love as we bring the radical and demanding Gospel of Christ to a world. It is inclusive in that the call is open to everyone, yet it is exclusive in that it calls those who would receive it to repent and change both their belief and actions.
So is it possible to have genuine friendships with the other while still holding to the Gospel? Yes! If you survey a room of orthodox Christians, the vast majority will have either family or friends who hold different religious beliefs than them, yet are close to them and cherish them as a person. We have friends and family that may be offended and repulsed by our exclusive beliefs but still love and cherish us as we also love and cherish them. We must continue this tradition and take it a step further by actively seeking such relationships.
So what does such an interfaith relationship look like? It looks just like most other relationships. It includes having a genuine interest in them as a human just as you do with all of your friends. It means loving them as you love yourself. It means experiencing life with them and being there for them. It means respecting their religious beliefs and not being afraid to affirm that there is truth and common ground between your two beliefs. Yet it also includes showing them their eternal need for our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
I am not going to deny that exclusive beliefs may cause tension, but it is a tension we must accept. We must seek to minimize the tension through our love, but not through changing our beliefs. Let us seeks authentic and meaningful relationships with those of different faiths while maintain a fervent belief in Jesus Christ and his Gospel.