Saturday, 23 August 2008
Finding Our Way Again - Review
Brian McLaren is the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church. He is a prolific author and one of the most listened to voices in the Emerging Church movement. The Emerging Church aims to forge a Christianity that is consistent with the post-modern society of the West, and is sometimes at loggerheads with the essentially modern Evangelicalism out of which it grew. He is thus, sometimes controversial, but usually compelling in what he says and writes.
This book is the first of a series of eight books under the overall editorship of Phyllis Tickle. Finding Our Way Again acts as an introduction to the series, and the other seven, to be produced by various authors during 2009-2010, will each deal with one of the ancient practices of the church which the series is seeking to encourage: Regular daily prayer, sabbath keeping, fasting, the sacred meal, pilgrimage, observing the liturgical year and tithing. This introductory volume is 214 pages divided into 20 brief chapters, each ending in a number of spiritual practices: ie questions for reflection, prayer of discussion. This book would keep a home group happy for a good six months at least. The writing is lucid and accessible, with a good scholarly depth without being intimidating. It is a useful book.
Brian McLaren divides his book into three sections. After an introduction, eight chapters present an argument for the rediscovery of the seven spiritual practices common to all the Abrahamic faiths, that is, those covered in the subsequent books of the series. He argues that the West has become dominated by three religious paradigms: pushy fundamentalism, mushy amorphous spirituality and militaristic scientific secularism, none of which has delivered on its promises. He argues for recovery of faith as a way of life:
"Without a coherent and compelling way of life, formed in community and expressed in mission, some of us begin losing interest in the system of belief, or we begin holding it grimly, even meanly, driving more and more people away from our faith rather than attracting them toward it."
This first section ends with a plea to combine passive spirituality with Christian activism.
The second section is an outline in 5 chapters of spiritual disciplines which he classifies as arrival, engagement, listening and response practices. He suggests ways in which these can be incorporated into a lived Christianity. There is nothing here which will be new to anyone who has read widely in the field of contemplative spirituality, but McLaren's listing provides a concise and practical summary.
The third part of the book, the final 6 chapters tie everything back to the beginnings of Christianity, and the development of the faith through the early centuries of the church's history. his plea is to take the learnings of the past, and to live them.
" When our churches are schools of practice thay make -and change - history. Otherwise they simply write history and argue about it, and of course, in so doing, tend to repeat it."
This is an engaging, practical and helpful book. Well worth the purchase price, but for me it is something more. Our old Church is declining into something with which even many of us within it can no longer identify; but this is not the end of faith. A new church is emerging, like a phoenix not soaring but slowly blinking as it extricates itself from the ashes and looks about. This book is one of many that stakes out the territory that the emerging church will one day occupy. It is not only a helpful catalyst for contemporary practice but a sign of hope for what may yet be.