The Story We Find Ourselves In:
by Brian D. McLaren, Jossy-Bass, 2003, 200 pp.
This book is a sequel to McLaren’s A New Kind of Christian (2001) in which he attempted to map out a new vantage point for thinking about the Christian gospel in the context of an emerging postmodern milieu. In The Story We Find Ourselves In, he begins to describe the scenery he notices from this new vantage point. Here theology becomes less analytical and systematic in character and more rooted in the biblical narrative – taking on the characteristics of “creative non-fiction”. This shift is necessary, insists McLaren, if our message is to make sense to educated and thoughtful people we meet all around us.
As in the earlier book, NEO, the Jamacian-born science teacher, is the main character giving shape to the on-going dialogue about faith and life. But in this case, instead of trying to re-orient a disillusioned pastor named Dan, NEO finds himself in the Galapagos Islands where he begins sharing “the story we find ourselves in” with Kerry, a biologist working with endangered species. Kelly had given up on the Christian faith of her fundamentalist parents a long time ago but finds NEO’s retelling of the old story in a new tone fascinating and relevant for her own interesting but troubled life. Eventually Kelly’s cancer brings both of them back to the United States and in touch with the characters involved in A New Kind of Christian, including Dan, his wife Carol and the members of the Potomac Community Church where Dan continues to pastor, as well as Kerry’s son Kincaid.
It is important to note that the telling of this story is not forced upon Kerry. Instead she is the one drawing the story out of NEO because she has become enamored with the openness and vulnerability of her new-found friend, whose concern for her appears to be genuine and unassuming. It is also of interest to note that some persons listening in on “the telling” are offended by the fact that NEO doesn’t use standard evangelical paradigms, searching instead for terms and images that connect with persons in our contemporary world.
NEO proposes seven main “movements” to the story. Although exactly how many there will be is not evident to Kerry nor the reader until he has wound his way through “the telling” to the end of the book, shortly before Kelly dies of her cancer.
Starting with Creation, NEO suggests that the biblical account is not so much text-book style information as it is poetry that provides meaning to our ever-unfolding existence. Crisis is the story of what went wrong and continues to go wrong. From early antiquity, humans have chosen to disrupt the balance God had in mind which he had called “good”. Then comes Calling in which God begins a resistance movement to what has been perverted. Abraham is called to bless all nations instead of conquering them. Then begin what NEO calls repeated rounds of Conversation in which God attempts to keep Abraham’s descendents on course through the interventions of Priests, Prophets, Poets, and Philosophers.
When all appears lost, Christ appears and offers new hope. NEO is not hemmed in by any particular theory of atonement, even daring to suggest a “theory” of his own to explain how the coming of Christ makes a difference. It is in the Community that Christ establishes that the true nature of his revolution takes shape. “More than nice people with confidence in heaven when they die, Christians become world-changing revolutionaries with hope for justice and peace in this life”. As Christians look ahead toward the Consummation they find themselves being drawn into a future by Christ’s vision instead of being pushed into by dynamics of the past.
This new way of “telling the story” will be quite disturbing to those who insist that the only way of conceptualizing the Christian way is the one they heard in childhood – the one that has the beginning and end all sewed up. This paradigm is more open ended, asking more questions of us than providing dogmatic certainties that allow us to stop growing. But as NEO says, “I’d rather have a profound transforming dream than a facile chart of the future any day.”
If you have read A New Kind of Christian, you must read this book to find where the story goes. If you haven’t read either, you have two choices. Don’t read either and remain comfortably perched on the branch where you now are. Or read both, and in so doing, climb to another branch offering a new view of faith and life in the context of our ever-changing world.
You’ve got my attention, Miriam. I hear you! And so do some of my neighbors. Come visit us – soon!