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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Really New Kind?

In the history of Christianity, there have been many thoughts about transforming the Church, its faith, and theology. Whenever new thoughts appeared on the surface of the conflict and tension between those who wanted to preserve old values and those who wanted to open up a new road, the title was always "new kind." The core tenet of Calvinian reformed church tradition, "Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda est," connotes that 'a new kind' of Christianity, and so a new kind of theology, is uneviatble. A sense of crisis about the existing church or theology makes people find 'a new kind.'

Maybe, what Brian McLaren says in his book, A New Kind of Christianity, might be one of expressions about the sense of crisis in Christianity. However, Brian differentiate his own trial from other past "new kind"s older than his in chronological order. As for him, most trials of ancedents who try to make 'new kind' just have suggested a "new" set of beliefs or a "new" state from old, especially bad, states. All of them are just answers. But, his suggestion is different from those because he suggests a "new" set of questions, not just answers. [p. 17-18]

I totally agree with his idea that "we need a new dynamic direction into which we move together, proclaiming, 'Here we go!'" [p. 17] But, I do not agree with his judging that past trials were just answers or states, which seemed not enough to transform the Church, theology, and the world. In my opinion, he is also on the same historical line of many past transformers, like M.L.K., Luether, Einstein, etc which he introduced in chapter 2. They, including Brian and (potentially) us, are all frontiers, regardless of whether they suggests new answers or new questions. The reason that I say this is to prevent us from regarding our thoughts as superior to that of the past people.

Among many subjects within this book, I was assinged to more responsively focus on chapter 3 'The God Qeustion.' When I finished reading my part, I felt that this book is a little "dangerous." Between attractive styles and insightful thoughts, a dangerous idea is hidden; a mistaken revolutionary approach. He says, "the portrait of God found in the Noah story is far less satisfying in many ways than a portrait that emerges later in the biblical library." [p. 110]
Toughly speaking, for him, satisfaction of the biblical portrait of God seems proportional to the chronological order. And, the final destination of time flow was historical Jesus. His too much linear idea is well expressed in a diagram which he uses to indicate the superioirity of younger narrative stories or understandings of God to older ones. [p. 112] Because the old understanding of God could not reflect more recent one, it was not fully mature. A violent tribal God in Noah story was not mature in comparison with a Christlike God, because it reflects old ideas of our anscestors, not having any knowledge of Jesus. Is it make sense?

The climax of his (mistaken) evolutionary understanding of God is shown in following sentence; "God's character is never revealed fully at any single point in the story, nor can it be contained simply in any list of proportions or adjectives derived from the stories of the past." [p. 114] If we follow this logical order, the next one which we should do is to make a brand-new understanding of God and he said like that really. I think he think of the whole history of biblical narratives, or even the whole history of Christianity, as sediment layers of earth. The older the narrative is, the deeper the sediment layer is. Because we, modern human, stand on the recent sediment layer, too old layers near the core of the earth cannot have any influence on us, just as dinosaurus story is not frightening at all now. But, just as the whole history of the earth is not a fossil, past biblical narratives are also not fossils. They continuously influences us. Some are hidden and others appear again abruptly, like earthquakes, which is the present self-manifestation of that which we call "the past."

Sometimes, we visit the past voluntarily. We seek some hints for solving the current problems from the past. In order to reconfigurate Imago Dei today, we delve into the creation story in the Bible. At the time when all human organs can be replaced with the artifical products, if even our brain could be replaced, what is human? What is God? What is salvation? We cannot guarrantee that we can find appropriate answers only in the future. So, we return to our past to get some hints or to find the real meaning of humanness.

I cannot agree with Brian McLaren because he tries to fosslize our living past. His evolutionary way of thinking is too much linear, burying all old stuffs beneath our consciousness. Moreover, he mistakes the evolutionary theory itself, which has no purpose or no goal toward the future. Rather, evolution theory shows that all past things were the results of interrelationship with the context, envirionmental settting. And all our contexts are not progressive; some are new but some are similar to the past.

Maybe, his (imaginary) answer would be that he does not deny the whole past, just advises to reinterprete the past in light of Jesus. Although this is another point to discuss, which I will speak a little bit later, it is sure, for me, that judging the various values of understanding of God from chronological order is very fragmentary and that his evlutionary idea cannot fully perceive the real meaning of the living past and the ancient future. The universe is not only progressive but also retrogressive. In East-Asian terms, The universe is always a meeting of going forth and going back.

Next, because he wants to make a brand-new Christianity, naturally he subordinates God-Question to Jesus-Question. his linear thought necessarily result in negating the past and affirming the future, which requires a new standard to see the biblical narratives and the world.
Here, I recall a Asian theologian Jung Young Lee, who was a professor at Drew. He criticized that many western theologians still too much focus on salvation, ignoring creation; so Christ over God. Even though Brian's focus is not on salvation, but I think he is also lacking of interests in God as Creator. If we should escape from the Greco-Roman narrative, that does not necessarily mean that we should give up God-talk. I believe that there have been many sources of God-talk worthwhile to be focused on, apart from the Hellenistic way of thinking. Furthermore, there have been also many creative world-views which can change our Hellenistic thoughts. Alternatives are not only in the future or returning back to historical Jesus. Even though Chirst should be the back-bone of a new kind of Christianity. it is not enough. I believe we should turn to the other stories about God in the rest of the world. When Chrisitianity seriously meet them, and understand them, we would find that even "a new kind" is also still in the western main-stream. Without changing the thinking and living way itself, "a new" is not really new.

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