Brian McLaren's 'A New Kind of Christianity'
The maturation of God unfolding in the Bible has five dimensions: we find it in God's uniqueness, God's ethics, God's universality, God's agency, and God's character. "In some passages, God appears violent, retaliatory, given to favoritism, and careless of human life. But over time, the image of God that predominates is gentle rather than cruel, compassionate rather than violent, fair to all rather than biased toward some, forgiving rather than retaliatory. In this more mature view, God is not capricious, bloodthirsty, hateful, or prone to fits of vengeful rage. Rather, God loves justice, kindness, reconciliation, and peace; God's grace gets the final word." Brian says that we are involved in this maturation when we "trad[e] up our images of God."
This God comes to maturity in Jesus: "The images of God that most resemble Jesus, whether they originate in the Bible or elsewhere, are the more mature and complete images; the ones less similar to the character of Jesus are the more embryonic and incomplete, even though they may be celebrated for being better than the less complete images they replaced."
Despite some keen insights, there are some serious flaws in Brian's new proposal.
Reading the Bible through the lens of Jesus Christ is indeed the way to go. But to use Jesus against the God of Israel he worshiped and prayed to and loved and obeyed pits us against what Jesus himself is doing.
One must also ask the root question: How do we determine what is less or more "mature"?
In particular, the evolutionary theory of God contains another fatal flaw. It's not the fact that it was tried out in the 19th-century Religionsgeschichtliche Schule ("history of religion school") of Germany and has been shown inadequate (though it finds an occasional admirer in folks like Karen Armstrong). And it's not the fact that the category of "evolution" is about as modernistic and imperialistic of a category I can think of. No, the singular flaw is this: The flow of the Bible is not neat. It doesn't fit into an evolutionary scheme. There are as many mercy passages in the Old Testament as there are grace-and-love passages in the New. What's more, passages about God's grace stand side-by-side with passages about God's wrath (e.g., Hosea 1-3; Matt. 23-25). The evolutionary approach doesn't work because that's not how Scripture's narrative works. There is wrath in Revelation and there is covenant love in Genesis. And Jesus talks more about Abba and hell than does the rest of the Bible combined.
Unfortunately, this book lacks the "generosity" of genuine orthodoxy and, frankly, I find little space in it for orthodoxy itself. Orthodoxy for too many today means little more than the absence of denying what's in the creeds. But a robust orthodoxy means that orthodoxy itself is the lens through which we see theology. One thing about this book is clear: Orthodoxy is not central.