A New Kind Of Christian – Part 1

By Brian McLaren

Copyright: 2004 (c) Copyright, Off The Map



“… can only help you explore places where others have already been.But if you’re going someplace where no one has ever been a map cannot help you.That’s where the name “Off The Map” comes from in part.But another problem with maps is that sometimes they change. I’d like to show you a slide of a map that changed.This comes from Honduras in 1998.A phenomenally strong and destructive hurricane named “Hurricane Mitch” formed in the Caribbean started moving west.Everybody expected that it would move over the coast of Central America as most hurricanes do.I confess to being a Weather Channel nerd, you know I, so if this were the Weather Channel they’d be making a motion like this, right about now.And you know, but they expected this hurricane to kind of move west and the eye of the hurricane would go over the land and when that would happen the hurricane begins to just desinigrate and fall apart.So you end up with a number of hours of extremely intense rain and then a day of extremely intense wind and a day or two of extremely intense rain and then you end up with a tropical storm and a tropical depression and soon the blue skies are back.But what happened with Hurricane Mitch was as it formed it started moving west and when it got about forty miles form the coast of Honduras it stopped and then for the next day it just began to wobble.Two days, three days, fours days, for a week, for five days it wobbled and then it moved over the shore.What that meant is that for those five days it was picking up all that warm moist Caribbean air and dropping it on Central America.You may have heard a terrible tragedy occurred in Nicaragua where a volcano, you know, that had formed over thousands and thousands of years from the ash of this volcano creating a huge cinder cone, well that cinder cone of ash absorbed this rain water day after day and finally one day, during this rain event, the whole hurricane slumped all at once and a town at the base of the hurricane was just covered, I’m sorry, the town at the base of the volcano was covered by the ash and over 30,000 people died in a matter of minutes, they were just wiped out instantly.It was a horrific effect of the storm.In Honduras, in downtown Tegucigalpa, someone who was there told me that the floodwaters reached the 8th story of buildings.Can you imagine this?Because in that week 100 inches of rain fell in Honduras. Now try to imagine over 8 feet of rain fell in Honduras, and when that rain fell it swelled the rivers as you can imagine.This is the Chulateka River, and what you see here is a structure that used to be a bridge.We can’t even call it a bridge anymore because by definition a bridge helps you get from one side of something to another.This doesn’t help you do anything anymore, because the floodwaters washed the road away on both sides of the bridge and then when the flood waters receded the riverbed was in a new place.So now this bridge is completely worthless, except that it is now become a tourist attraction.Because people from the two villages that were connected by this road and bridge go to the end of the road and sort of wave at the people they haven’t been able to visit in all of these years. But I think this picture is a power metaphor for what happens in our world because 100 inches of rain falls in Honduras falls every year, every two years.What’s unusual though is when 100 inches of rain is condensed, you see, into a week.Now I think change is the same way.Change is happening constantly.But when a lot of change is concentrated in a short amount of time structures that used to serve become tourist attractions. And the maps that used to accurately reflect reality don’t reflect reality anymore. And then you have to start adventuring off the map. If you go to that next slide please.A good Scripture I think that sets a framework for what we want to talk about in part this weekend is something that the apostle Peter told the early Christians.He said “In your heart set apart Christ as Lord.ALWAYS BE PREPARED TO GIVE AN ANSWER TO EVERYONE WHO ASKS YOU to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect.” And that phrase “always be prepared” I think is very significant.It’s not that you can get prepared once and you’re prepared forever.It would be like your software, you know, you keep getting upgrades. And he’s saying “you have to continually be upgraded in your preparation” because people are going to continue to ask you new questions. A lot of our churches are very well prepared for the questions of the 1840’s.Some are prepared for the 1950’s.What we call contemporary churches are prepared for the 1970’s.But there are relatively few churches and few Christians that are still being prepared to deal with the questions of the new century and new millennium. And one of the real essentials, the apostle Peter says, is that as we engage with people we do so with gentleness and respect.And that’s going to be our tone toward our culture.I try not to do this but occasionally I succumb to temptation and listen to Christian radio.And when I do it always frustrates me because the attitude toward our neighbors and the attitude toward our culture that I hear there is not gentleness and respect.Generally it’s an attitude of disgust and disdain. And so I would, this weekend we’re going get practice in trying to look at our neighbors and our culture, including the people who don’t understand or agree with a lot of what we believe, and instead of talking about how wrong they are we’re going to try to understand them and treat them with gentleness and respect and take their questions seriously. In order to do that, let me try to give you kind of the history of humanity in about five minutes.Now in order to do this we will have to skip a few details, ok? But we’re gonna start our survey in about 2500 BC in what we call the prehistoric world.Now I remember when I was a kid and they talked about prehistory I thought, how can anything be before history?It was like negative numbers, I didn’t understand negative numbers, how can you have anything less than zero you see.But when historians say prehistory what they mean is before people had written history. And when you think about it writing is an incredible technological advancement. In fact this would be interesting to think about and talk about later on, but when you invent writing you make possible new levels of economy, economics, new levels of government, all kinds of new levels of learning and passing on your learning from generation to generation. The invention of writing is an incredible technological advancement.It’s like one hundred inches of rain falling in a week, it changes the world, and it gives birth to a new world that we call the ancient world.And this is the period that goes from about 2500 BC to about 500 AD.And because of the invention of writing, largely, you have these new economies and new political systems that become possible and what you end up with is are things called empires. And the ancient world is a succession of great empires around the Mediterranean.There’s the Sumerian, Acadian, Egyptian, I’m sorry, stay with that previous slide, the Sumerian, Acadian, Egyptian, Hittite, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman Empires.And if you know anything about the Bible a lot of those names are familiar because they’re important characters in the biblical story.Abraham comes out of the Sumerian empire.Moses, you’ll remember, he brings the people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt where they’d been slaves for 400 years.So the story starts in the Sumerian empire, it ends up for awhile in the Egyptian empire.You might remember when they resettle under Joshua and Caleb and the others in the land of promise eventually the northern Kingdom is conquered by the Assyrians and then the Babylonians, its actually it was in modern day Iraq and you got a regime change in Iraq is nothing new.And after the Babylonians you had another regime change to the Medo-Persians.They’re the ones who allowed Nehemiah and Ezra and other to go back and resettle, where the people resettled were living under a series of empires until the Roman Empire begins and that’s when Jesus comes and the apostles and they spread the Good News of Jesus across the Roman Empire.But something fascinating happens about 500 AD.The Roman Empire ends through a whole series of causes.One of them, by the way, might be the spread of Christianity.Some people think that the Roman Empire ended because when more people became Christians nobody could sustain the brutality necessary to keep imperial power. And so the idea is that wherever Christianity goes people become less violent and it makes that, and I wish that were still true, it doesn’t seem to be true anymore sadly.But around 500 AD also you have these succession of invading barbarian hordes, the Goths and the Huns and later the Vikings and the Mongols.But around 500 AD enough of these invaders come and the Roman Empire’s getting brittle and fragile and the Roman Senate leaves Rome when some invaders come in and they just disappear and there’s no government left.Now I come from Washington DC and a lot of people sort of wish that would happen there but it’s a mess when you have no government, nobodies there to pay the soldiers, nobodies there to take out the trash, nobodies there to keep the mail going.And so the remaining nobles in the city come to the pope, Pope Gregory, and they said “listen, we’re in a mess, could you help us, could you help us run the city.”And so something fascinating happens at 500 AD it’s like 500 inches of rain happening in a week.When you’re done with that period of time the world, the maps of the world, are different and the new world is what we call the Middle Ages of the Medieval World and it’s a world where the Church and the State are working closely together where you don’t have one dominating political empire but you have the influence of the Church in Western Civilization at least being the glue that holds civilization together.And it’s a fascinating period, it lasts about 1000 years.But you get to about 1500 AD and you have another convergence of phenomenal change.You have a new communication technology, the printing press.Writing was monumental 2500 BC but 1500 AD the printing press changes the world in phenomenal ways.You have new weapons technology, you have guns, you have infantry, you have cavalry that changes the world in phenomenal ways, and artillery changes the world, phenomenal ways. You have a spiritual kind of new movement this Reformation Movement with Martin Luther, which Protestants tend to think was a good thing, although sometimes we all have our second thoughts. Then there was new transportation technology; man that one changed the world.This multi-masted transoceanic sailing vessel, the Caravel, makes possible all kinds of unbelievable things. Remember the Conquistadors, they come to the New World, they bring back literally boatloads of gold that makes Europe unfathomably rich compared to what they had been before.It also makes possible them going down and finding slaves in Africa and exporting slaves around the world, tragic consequences.It also makes possible the influx of huge numbers of new people into the New World and so many of our ancestors came here and stole the lands of the people who lived here, the thought never crossed out mind that they belonged here and that they’d owned these lands, we just took ‘em. And in addition to taking the lands we brought with us gifts: smallpox, venereal disease, we killed millions and millions of people through our diseases.The world changed, the maps changed, because of this new transportation technology.New ways of thinking, we don’t have time to get into, but a whole new view of the universe, in fact if you go to the next slide Copernicus and Galileo come up with this small adjustment in the map of the universe.Instead of the earth being in the center with ten concentric spheres, each of which holds the planets and stars, they make a slight adjustment, “let’s put the sun in the center”.And boy with this you have to hear shrieks of anguish, because people had thought that this view of the world with the earth in the center and the Bible went right together and if you bring down that earth-centered view of the world they thought the Bible, the Gospel, the Church, the Christian faith will go down with it and there was bitter debate and bitter argument.It wasn’t just the Catholics who opposed this, Martin Luther, John Calvin, they all were against Copernicus and their successors were against Galileo as well. And so amazing changes happened 500 years ago and brought us to this new world that we call the modern world.Let’s say it’s born in 1500, let’s say that it kind of reaches its adulthood in about 1750, and let’s say right now it’s in the prime of life.But many of us believe that in the last 50 years or so, a lot of us believe another 100 inches of rain has been falling and that our world is going through another major change in its landscape. Not everybody agrees with this but a lot of people, more and more people, are starting to think “yes, something’s going on” and what we’ve grown used to as the modern world is now giving birth to some new kind of world, a world that’s different.When you think about it, there’s new communication technology.First you have the telephone, telegraph, telephone, but then you have the television and the screen and then the Internet and it’s very hard to overestimate how much the world will change because of these new communication technologies.It’s very hard to underestimate, to overestimate it.In fact I just was hearing recently about a theory that’s out right now that says when you write with your hand you write with, most people with their right hand, which strengthens the left side of the brain. And there’s a theory that’s developing now that says when most of your communication is done, written communication is done through typing what you strengthen is the interaction of both sides of the brain and they believe that we are going through a major neural rewiring right now.It could be true. A whole new approach to science. How many of you were taught that the world, that matter is composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons?Yeh, I mean that is so 20th Century.You have no idea what they’re talking about now, it’s a whole new understanding of science. And we don’t even have to say anything about new weapons technology.I mean if guns and cannons changed the world 500 years ago, think about atom bombs in the last 60 or so years. And then think about biological and chemical weapons and think about terrorism and suicide bombers and you start to get a feel for, who knows how that will change the world.New transportation, think about how airplanes change the world, cars, trains, automobiles, I’m not just thinking about the movie with John Candy and Steve Martin although it was a pretty funny movie.New spirituality, whole new approach to spirituality.50 years ago people thought that religion was on its way out. 50 years ago people thought that science and government would answer all of humanities questions and that religion, the sun was setting.But now everybody knows this spirituality is here to stay.People seem to be incurably religious.So our choice is not between religion and no religion, our choice is between good religion and bad religion.  And then whole new ways of thinking that we could talk more about if we had more time.One scientist or historian of philosophy and science Tomas Kune described it like this “When you have a hundred inches of rainfall you have a period of time where people have an old paradigm, or an old methodology and an old way of thinking.Then there’s an early transition period when people are very negative and very cynical, very critical, they’re angry about how the old system doesn’t answer the questions anymore. And that frustration eventually gives way to a late transition period where then people start saying “It’s not enough to complain about how bad the old system is, let’s start dreaming about the new system” and that gives birth to this new system or new paradigm. And a number of people, I’m one of them, think that we’re not in that new paradigm yet, we’re far from there but we’re in this transition period.Some of us are in the negative stage, others of us are just trying to get a little more constructive, but we don’t know what this new paradigm is going to be yet.But we’re in the process and there’s this sense that the new road hasn’t been built, the new bridge hasn’t been built, but a lot of us are saying the old one doesn’t seem to be working anymore. A scientist looking back on Albert Einstein and a lot of his discoveries that contributed to the new science, said “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”And if that’s true in the world of science, how much more true would it be in the world of religion where so much more is at stake. And so many of us find ourselves struggling with old paradigms and old ways of thinking.We really love that old bridge and the fact that it’s not working anymore really causes us pain.What we want to do is get out the bulldozers and dig out the riverbed and get the river back where it belongs and bring in some fill dirt and make everything the way it used to be.But others of us are saying, “Well no, this is the new world, change happens, we’ve got to figure out how to deal with it.” God isn’t walking around in heaven going (hits head) “Oh Myself, what am I going to do about this” you know.He’s not upset, He’s not worried, you know His blood pressure, He’s not in a nervous breakdown danger zone.But rather God is with us through all these changes, you know these past storms, these past epochal changes, these paradigm changes of the past, they didn’t surprise God and that we feel that we can cope with it.And so that’s what we’re going to be talking about this weekend.What does it mean to be Christians?What would it mean if you became a very, very effective modern Christian and then the world changed under your feet into a postmodern world and you were still practicing your faith for a world that no longer exists?What would that mean? They challenging questions and they are a little bit scary, but that’s what we’re gonna be thinking about this weekend. Gonna bring Jim Henderson up and Jim’s, actually what I’d like to do right now is, before I bring Jim up, is say, a little exercise for you.I’d like you to stand up and find one or two people, preferably not someone you came with, and I would like you to just talk about what we just considered together. Was there something that you thought was especially interesting or appropriate or is there something you really have questions about or disagree with, but what’s your dominate impression of this, and we’re gonna give you five minutes to have a little conference about that, but please do it standing up with no more than two or three people and it wouldn’t hurt to exchange names either.(Music comes up, the song by Avril Lavigne a non-believer pop singer, “Complicated”: Tell me, Why do you have to go and make things so complicated? I see the way you're acting like you're somebody else gets me frustrated
Life's like this you)



Dan:…. In the aisle here and here’s what we’d like to do.What we want to do is find out, you know we each talked to somebody and I’d like to know first of all to start this off, what did you hear somebody tell you that you thought was interesting or insightful and maybe you know their name, you can just stand up, if you just raise your hand we’ve got a couple of mikes here we want to get to you.What did you hear somebody say that you thought was insightful or helpful or interesting?Raise your hand, you know tell on somebody that you thought was pretty smart or had something interesting to say.Ok.Nobody’s smart, I see, hmmm?Nobody said anything interesting?There’s a hand, would you stand up please?Who’s that?

June: Hi, I’m June.

Dan: We’re not going to hand you the microphones, it’s a rule, nothing personal.

June: Sorry Dan, I’m gonna share a little bit of what my friend down there said to me.We were talking about how it’s a general concept that sometimes this is a younger phenomenon that this is kind of a youth sort of thing and my friend here works with women’s ministries very frequently and she said that she is finding a lot it also in the Oprah generation as she called it, which I thought was pretty profound.

Dan: You thought that people like us wouldn’t get it? (Laughter)I understand.We’re kinda surprised ourselves actually.

June:Yeh, we think you are a little behind the ball on that.

Dan: Ok, so that’s interesting.So surprised that some older people get it.Anybody else had an observation?Somebody else?What did you hear Brian say that you thought was interesting or maybe you had a question about, something you’d just like to comment on?Anybody have a thought about that?You want to stand up?What’s your name please?


Dan:Hi Kathy.

Kathy: Hi.We talked about how the comment about the Christian radio station caught us because we feel like that there’s a whole continuum on that as well as far as from the very conservative to the very liberal and basically everything inbetween.

Dan: Tell me a little bit more about your question, you mean you caught, explain, go into a little more detail.

Kathy:Yeh basically you just made the comment about that you tried not to listen to Christian radio because you wanted to expand, I assume you were wanting to expand your horizons and know what other people out there listen to and this and that, that said that even within Christian radio itself there is that broadness too that even as Christians we pick and choose which ones we want to listen to.

Brian:That’s a really good point, although it makes me wish I had your Christian radio station around because where I live there is not much of a spectrum.Although there might be variety in music, the content that’s behind it I think is all very much a form of Christianity that made a lot of sense in the modern world but makes a lot less sense in an emerging postmodern world.

Dan: So anyone else?Thoughts, comments you have?Yes sir, in that back here.

Randy: My name is Randy and how would the phenomenon of the mega churches fit, is that still part of the old paradigm, cause it appears to be quite successful as far as the numbers of people that it’s drawing, but where would that fit in that explanation?

Dan: Just for a comment on that what he is addressing is in Protestant evangelicalism for those of you that are not from that tradition, there’s a phenomenon of mega churches and that have a lot of visibility and he’s wondering about it fitting into the world that Brian’s talking about.

Brian:That’s a great question.Maybe my best answer to that would be, I’m for all kinds of churches, big ones, small ones, organized, disorganized, liturgical, non-liturgical, loud, quiet, I mean I think their all great.

 Brian:But I think in the modern world there is this hostility from the culture, especially the educated culture, toward religion and hostility basically was science and government will have all the answers as we said.And religion was marginalized; it was seen as a personal, private thing.If you need it, it’s sort of a crutch, strong people sort of get on with their lives.And I think in that setting it makes a whole lot of sense to get really big churches.Because it’s a way of us saying “We’re strong, we’re important, we’re not insignificant, we’re not marginalized” and think there’s a lot of momentum toward that.

 Brian:Its interesting as you move into a different setting where instead of saying religion is out, it’s more like this “Hey, that’s cool, whatever you’re into, whatever you believe, that’s cool.”At that point then proving something by numbers becomes less important.Now it doesn’t mean numbers are bad, but what becomes more important is what do you prove by how you live.So I think the question that is going be really foremost on our minds is not what approaches to church help us build the biggest churches, but what approaches to the Christian life help us make the best Christians.And if large churches can do that, and small and medium size can, its all great.But the question is what kind of Christians are we producing.That I think is the one to really pay attention to.Great question.

 Dan: Someone else?Question coming?Right down here in front.John.And this is?

Steve: I’m Steve.We were talking and they asked me a question and I realized we were talking and I didn’t really answer it completely, they asked me so what kind of church is my church?Is it a postmodern church, the church I pastor, is it not a modern church, and maybe like a lot of em goin here the reality is, yes, its all of those things, I’ve got people who are very postmodern and some of them don’t just understand postmoderny and maybe I’ve got some 60 year olds that I would consider postmoderns, but the reality is when I teach, when you teach and when you do church the postmoderns and of all age spectrums then the moderns don’t get it.And then when you do church to moderns the postmoderns are like stinted and I take it at some point you’re going to talk, maybe this weekend, in this blended generational, this transitional stage, man how do you do it for everybody, you know.

Dan: Your book, Reinventing Church, addresses this issue because your own church went through this process, right.

Brian: Yeh.It’s actually the book’s called “Church On The Other Side” but … the situation that we face now in this time of change, I think, is very analogous to the first century church where all the first Christians were Jewish and they felt they had the inside track, and then the Holy Spirit messes things up and invites Gentiles into the kingdom of God.

 Brian:And no these inside track Jewish people have to welcome in these barbarian Gentiles.And we face a very similar situation.All the Christians in the world right now are either modern or pre-modern.And now we have to say are we willing to welcome in these new people and the Scripture that always comes to mind in this is 1 Cor. 13.It’s not just for weddings anymore.1 Cor. 13 is really about Jews and Gentiles loving each other, people of different cultures.So I would say today when we say how do we get moderns and postmoderns first of all the burden should be on the moderns because their the ones with the heritage, their the ones who ought to be able to be flexible and be understanding.But it goes both ways, they have to be patient, kind, not take into account wrongs suffered, not be rude, all the rest.1 Cor. 13 is a great one for us to go deep with.

 Dan: Hey Brian, thanks so much for sharing with us, appreciate it.Thank you.