Brian McLaren has grown tired of evangelicalism. In turn, many evangelicals are wearied with Brian. His most recent book, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith (HarperOne), must be understood as his latest iteration of a project of deconstructing the old and reconstructing a new kind of Christian faith. In it, he poses a question that this review will seek to answer. It is a question he asks of himself: "How did a mild-mannered guy like me get into so much trouble?" Or, as he asks one page later, "How did I get into this swirl of controversy?"
As a friend and a chronicler for two decades, I have watched Brian's work. Generous Orthodoxy gave us a critique of both sides and some glimpses of a third way, even if the book frustrated to no end by leaving too many loose ends dangling. I thought both The Secret Message of Jesus and Everything Must Change provided us with what could become an evangelical social gospel. Along the way, Brian has poked evangelicals in the eyes and chest by fixating on sensitive spots that bedevil them—not the least of which is the uneasy connection between the "spiritual" gospel and the "social" gospel. If evangelicalism is characterized by David Bebbington's famous quadrilateral—that is, biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism, and activism—then Brian has poked and, to one degree or another, criticized, deconstructed, and rejected each.
Some of the pokes, if we are honest, have been deserved. He keeps on poking in A New Kind of Christianity—harder than before, in fact. For example, the chapter on how evangelicals defended slavery skewers a problem in their biblicism. In his (unsatisfying) chapter on homosexuality, McLaren writes about a movement ...1