Friday, January 11, 2008

Will Anything Ever Change?

As I read Brian McLaren's EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE I had a profound moment of deja vu. I felt like it was thirty or so years ago and I was reading Ron Sider's RICH CHRISTIANS IN AN AGE OF HUNGER. The similarities between the two books far outweign their differences. Though McLaren is more widely focused than Sider, Sider brings in most of the concerns Mclaren articulates through his focus on hunger. Both bemoan the insensitvity of the church to their respective concerns and provide a theolgical framework for a different approach (Sider is better on this point than McLaren). Both attempt serious analysis of the issues and provide some ways that Christians and churches can begin to respond. Both are optimistic that there is already a core of folks alert and responsive to their concerns and they form the nucleus of what can (and must) become a worldwide response of the church. All differences aside, and regardless of what you make of thier analyses and prescriptions (both have been criticized for over-simplifying and somewhat superficial analytical work, probably fairly so), both called for a "revolution" in church practice and mission.

with thirty or so years hindsight, I have to say that Sider's call has gone largely unheeded. There is a greater awareness of hunger and related issues now, due in some measure to his work, but there has been no significant revolution in church practice and mission. Many are now breathlessly embracing McLaren's book as a new revelation, however Sider teaches us that little has been learned and internalized by the North American Church in general, for McLaren says nothing really new that Sider did not say or imply about the theological and missiological aspects of his discussion. Perhaps EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE is this generation's RICH CHRISTIANS, but if so, I hope it substantially more groundlevel impact than its predecessor.

Perhaps I am simply getting older without a correlative increase in wisdom. But I cannot help but suspect that McLaren's message will have as little long-lasting impact as Sider's. One ray of hope: Sider is an academic, McLaren a pastor. Perhaps he has a bit surer sense of how to communicate with church people than Sider. I beleive the problem is more deeply rooted than just that though. Maybe Christians in other countries and parts of the world will take to his message more readily than we North Americans will. I hope and pray so. But, for us in this country, I have to confess a prevailing doubt about whether anything will ever change in our churches here.

On that cheery note,

Lee Wyatt


Neal Locke said...

I hear you. Believe it or not, my enthusiasm for McLaren has actually started to wane a little with this latest book. It's still good material, but I'm just starting to wonder if the main product of the "emerging church" conversation is just conversation. Or, rather, books.

I wrote a challenge to Emergent Authors over on presbymergent right before the holidays. Got a lot of response, but not from any of the people I'd hoped would weigh in (like McLaren). Oh well.

One small thing has changed, though: I'm now an inquirer under the care of Grace Presbytery!

Lee said...

Thanks for your response, Neal. Behind my comments, lies my personal frustration with my own response to all the "knowledge" I think I have. Aside from a few meager and short-lived efforts, I have not embodied what I believe/know to be the gospel in my own life. I hope and pray your generation will be more faithful than mine.

BTW, congrats (I guess?) on becoming an inquirer. I hope that is a good experience for you.