The Long View: The Virtue of Unoriginality
A new reformation—at least an attempt at one—is brewing. "Doesn't the religious community see that the world is changing?" plead the new reformers. They say the culture is being transfigured by postmodernism. They say the church is stuck in the modern era. They conclude that the church must become postmodern or die.
This is the basic outline of an increasing number of conferences, Web pages, and books produced by the postmodern reformers. The most recent and controversial example is Brian D. McLaren's A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey (Jossey-Bass, 2001). McLaren describes nine experiences (what he calls his "data") he has been wrestling with, his frustrations with the church and culture he finds himself in.
These data drive him to ask these questions: "Doesn't the religious community. … have anything fresh and incisive to say? Isn't it even asking any new questions? Has it nothing to offer other than the stock formulas that it has been offering? Is there not a Saint Francis or Søren Kierkegaard or C. S. Lewis in the house with some fresh ideas and energy?"
McLaren's plea is typical of postmodern reformers. Indeed, their passion is admirable, and their cultural analysis is keen. But I fear they would merely slap a coat of paint on a sagging building whose foundation needs attention. They would do well to take lessons from the very people they say they admire.
C. S. Lewis, for example, was uninterested in "saying something fresh." His prologue to The Problem of Pain is typical: "I have believed myself re-stating ancient and orthodox doctrines. If any parts of the book are 'original,' in the sense of being novel or unorthodox, they are against my will and as a result of my ignorance."
The same ...