Brian McLaren’s latest book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, released nearly a month ago and has garnered national attention. Brian took a few moments out of his book tour to respond to RLC on some of the questions coming his way:
RLC: Your new book has been getting a lot of attention. Why do you think that is?
Brian: This is my thirteenth book (I think), and I still don’t know why some books “pop” and some don’t. But this one is hitting a topic that is – in Tony’s famous words – a “hot potato,” and it’s hitting it at a time when religious hostility is in the news almost every day.
RLC: What’s your basic premise for the book?
Brian: First, that we Christians already know how to do two things well. We know how to have a strong Christian identity that is hostile towards other religions, and we know how to have a weak Christian identity that’s tolerant of other religions. My contention is that both options have some strengths, but neither is good enough for the road ahead.
RLC: What’s the alternative?
Brian: I’m advocating a strong Christian identity that’s benevolent to other religions … that comes, in the words of Jesus, not to condemn, but to save, that seeks the common good, that looks for allies without assuming the other is an adversary.
RLC: Why is this subject important for Red Letter Christians?
Brian: I think Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, and Christians have a choice – do they follow leaders who lead them into combat, conflict, domination, elimination, isolation, and so on … or do they follow leaders who lead them into contact, understanding, reconciliation, collaboration, and sharing of gifts? For those of us who believe Jesus is the ultimate Word of God, and that his words are the most important words in the world for us, Jesus is clearly in the latter category. So … our challenge is not to follower our religion, which has a very mixed track record when it comes to encountering the other – but rather to follow our leader, who models God’s heart in encountering the other.
RLC: Were there any major discoveries for you in researching the book?
Brian: Many. One of the first was the realization that it’s not our differences that keep us apart; it’s actually a profound similarity. We all build identity through opposition to the other. When we have that in common, things aren’t going to go well. That’s why Red Letter Christians have so much to offer – we believe Jesus gives another way of building identity.
RLC: What’s that different way?
Brian: Jesus doesn’t dominate the other, avoid the other, colonize the other, intimidate the other, demonize the other, or marginalize the other. He incarnates into the other, joins the other in solidarity, protects the other, listens to the other, serves the other, even lays down his life for the other. There’s a message that’s counter-cultural both in society and in many of our religious communities!
RLC: Give us one other discovery, something that was a fresh realization for you.
Brian: I talked about historical, doctrinal, liturgical, and missional challenges we need to face. There were so many new insights that came in each category. One of the most profound – both for me, in writing the book, and for people I’m speaking to about the subject on the road, comes in the doctrinal section. It has to do with the Trinity. As you probably know, the Doctrine of the Trinity has been used at different points in church history in some unsavory ways. Heresy hunters used it to drive people from their homes, marginalize them, imprison them, and worse. It was the ultimate litmus test. Yet I see in the doctrine one of the most powerful arguments imaginable for respectful treatment of the other. If in God there is Father-ness that doesn’t dominate Son-ness, but elevates Son-ness to equality, and if there is Spirit-ness that doesn’t colonize Father-ness or Son-ness, then we could say that God is simply a “One,” but a “One-Another.” Relationality – relationship with otherness, difference without division, unity without uniformity – is inherent in the essence or nature of God. So … the way the doctrine has been abused in history to persecute so-called heretics was in itself heretical, in that it violated the love and heart of the Trinity. Trinitarianism can become – not a divisive dogma, but a “healing teaching” (recalling the word “doctor” which is hidden in the word “doctrine”). And not only that, it can become a way of relating – a practice, if you will. To me, that’s awe-inspiring.
RLC: You’re in the middle of a book tour. How’s it going?
Brian: It’s really been a pleasure. Not only have Christians been coming, but at many events we’ve had Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, and others … and they’re all intrigued to hear Christians facing the reality – which they see all too often – of our unresolved identity issues which produce unconscious but real hostility.
RLC: People can get the book through normal channels, right?
RLC: One more question. Is there anything you wished you had included in the book that you didn’t?
Brian: One thing. I mentioned that I deal with historical, doctrinal, liturgical, and missional challenges. There’s also the spiritual challenge – which has to do with a habit of the heart, an internal posture of the soul. That, it turns out, was the focus of my previous book – Naked Spirituality, which talks about four stages of the spiritual life. The last stage is harmony … and of course, that is essential to a renovation in Christian identity. I wish I had made that connection between the two books more clear. There’s always the second edition!