Quotes and Excerpts from:

The Story We Find Ourselves In:

Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian

 by Brian D. McLaren

Jossey-Bass; 1st edition (March 28, 2003)


See also A New Kind of Christian

Emerging "Christianity" - Part 1: Breaking Out of the box

Brian McLaren is "the founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in the Washington-Baltimore area and the author of two previous books on contemporary Christianity, including The Church on the Other Side: Doing Ministry in the Postmodern Matrix.

Backflap: "A blessing of a book that can alter your view of yourself, your church and your world." Len Sweet, Staley E. Jones Chair of Evangelism, Drew University

Our observation:  McLaren's fictional dialogues demonstrate how the postmodern thinking and culture were created. The dialectic process and the standard ground rules for facilitated small groups prompt people to adapt to the following stages: 

  • Persuade people to set aside their own assumptions and suspend their personal beliefs
  • Listen empathically to the opposite view in a friendly setting -- then (in order to be nice and get along with others) ...
  • Choose to be open-minded, willing to respect and empathize with the contrary and speculative views
  • Consider all positions valid and worthwhile, even if it means altering or abandoning former convictions
  • Pick and choose from each one what best fits your own preferences at the moment

Since most of the issues  have no clear cut obvious answer that would please everyone, few can or will argue that point or take a strict position. You just consider all the sides and call then all valid -- which prompts a group member to involuntarily look and walk beyond his earlier beliefs.

To better understand the following dialogue concerning the significance of the cross, please read

Recovering the Scandal of Liberalism: Disdaining the Cross

Page 103

The most ancient theory is often called the 'ransom' theory. This view says that we humans, through our sin, placed ourselves under the authority of Satan." I didn't notice that Kerry squirmed when I said "Satan," but Carol told me later that she did. "Jesus comes and offers himself as a ransom for us. He says to Satan, "If I give you myself, will you set them free?' Satan agrees to the bargain, and so he takes, tortures, and kills Jesus, whose self-sacrifice sets us free. Of course, in the end, God double-crosses Satan--pardon the pun--by raising Jesus from the dead. So Satan is double the loser, and we're set free to live for and with God again."

"Sorry," Kerry said, but that one makes even less sense to me than Carol's. I mean, no offense, but do you really believe in Satan? And why would God be making deals with the devil anyway?"

"Now I was a bit flustered. I emphasized my belief that Satan really exists, but quickly assured Kerry that I didn't believe that Satan is a pitch-fork-carrying guy with horns on his head.... I seemed to make a little headway with her when I said that since evil is a uniquely personal trait, it can't just be an impersonal fore, but has to be understood as a personal reality.

"I can see your point, I really can," Kerry said. "But wouldn't it be a little more helpful to see personal evil as analogous to a computer virus, something that attaches itself to the software of our personality and works it way in and then... wow, I guess this language really works... it corrupts ? I mean, if you're saying that Satan is a personification of evil in that way, I could see that."

"I shook my head... but Neo stepped in. "Just a minute, Dan. I think Kerry might be onto something here. You know, if you go back into the most ancient parts of the Old Testament, there is not concept of Satan. That idea comes along much later. It seems to have been borrowed from t he Zoroastrians, actually. Maybe it's no sin to think of Satan as a metaphor--a horribly real metaphor for a terribly real force in t eh universe, mind you. I think it would be a terrible sin to dismiss Satan a something stupid or inconsequential.

"What about the Garden of Eden?" Carol shot back. "Who tempted Eve?"

"Actually, " Neo replied, in the story itself, the tempter is never referred to as Satan, just as a snake. Later on, of course--"

I interrupted Neo, as I could see a major argument brewing between Carol and him. "UI think we're getting off on a bit of tangent. This discussion on Satan is important, but I was going through the theories of atonement, remember? We're all agreed that evil is a personal phenomenon, something very real and very, very dangerous....

Page 104

So the ransom theory says that Jesus offered himself to be ravaged by evil in its most horrific, personal form, and that his self-giving somehow turns evil back on itself and frees us."

"It sounds a bit like some matter-antimatter thing in science fiction," Kerry offered, trying to be helpful. "You know, an act of absolute goodness and selflessness somehow nullifies evil and selfishness."

"Good point, " I said politely and maybe a little falsely, since I really had little idea what she meant by mater-antimatter, not being a fan of science fiction myself. "What you just described may actually make a bit more sense of the 'substitutionary' theory.... In that theory, God's merciful act of absolute goodness and selflessness in giving himself through Jesus on the cross satisfies or cancels out or absorbs God's just anger about human evil and selfishness."...

I moved on. "Anyway, a third theory--and this is really the most dominant theory thought church history--is called the 'Christus Victor' theory. In the ransom theory, the enemy is Satan, who has us as prisoners or kidnap victims, and Jesus' self-giving springs us free. In the substitutionary theory, the enemy, so to speak, is God's just wrath at our sin, and Jesus' death absorbs God's wrath. In the Christus Victory theory, our enemy is death. By entering into and overcoming death, Jesus opened the door for us to enter eternal life."

"This is helping," Kerry said. "Just knowing that it's not some simple formula. I like the idea of these window, Dan. You said there were six?"

"Yes. OK. Next, there's the 'perfect penitent'  theory. This theory acknowledge the question your raised before: 'If God wants to forgive us, why doesn't he just do so?' And the real answer this theory gives is that forgiveness, for it to be legitimate and real, requires and expression of sincere repentance from the wrongdoer."

"And?" Kerry asked.

"And none of us are very good at repenting. None of us can repent sincerely or fully, because deep down, a part of us, at least, still loves to sin. Our best repentance is always ambivalent, partial, holding back. so this theory sees Jesus' acceptance of death--after all, he could have escaped any number of ways--as his enacting, on behalf of the whole human race, perfect repentance for us. He becomes a representative of all humanity and willingly submits himself to being condemned and punished on our account, in spite of his true innocence, as a way of acting our real repentance for the human race.'

"I've never heard of that one," Kerry said.

Neither have I, and I'm a pure-bred Baptist form Atlanta!' Carol added.

Page 105

I continued. "It was the view preferred by D. S. Lewis, ...He had problems with the substitutionary atonement theory for the same reason you do. Anyway, there's also what some people call the 'moral influence' theory, although I think that the name is too limiting. In this theory, the cross demonstrates Jesus' self-giving, his complete abandonment to God's will, his complete self-devotion for the sake of the word. Jesus' death completes the whole message of his life: he makes visible the self-giving love of God. When that sacrificial love touches us, we are changed internally--'constrained' is the word Paul uses for it-- so that we want to stop being selfish, and we want to join God in self-giving, beginning by giving ourselves  back to God, a and leading us to give ourselves to our neighbors and the world too. It's as if Jesus invites us into his self-giving. He gives himself to God, for the sake of the whole world, and he invites us into his devotion, both to God and for the world."

"What's the enemy in that view?" Kerry asked.

"I guess it's our own selfishness, our own lack of love," I replied.

"I think I like that one best," Kerry said. "It reminds me of the whole idea of calling, of deciding to get back on God's side, joining God in the creative, saving process and abandoning the selfish and destructive process, you know? So maybe by coming to us in such pure, vulnerable goodness and then letting us kill him, Jesus is showing us, not just individually, but as a whole human race, how destructive our selfish ways are. ... But I thought you said there are six views. I've been counting on my fingers here, and that's only five."

"Maybe the were only five, then....

Well, I'm not sure what to name this, but it's one I've been thinking about," Neo said. "Let's call it the 'powerful weakness' theory, or maybe the 'foolish wisdom' theory. It hinges on  exactly the word you just used, Kerry--'vulnerable.' It works like this; by becoming vulnerable on the cross, by accepting suffering from everyone, Jews and Romans alike, rather than visiting suffering on everyone, Jesus is showing God's loving hearth, which wants forgiveness, nor revenge, for everyone. Jesus shows us that the wisdom of God's kingdom is sacrifice, not violence. It's about accepting suffering and transforming it into reconciliation, not avenging suffering through retaliation. So through this window, the cross shows God's rejection of the human violence and dominance and oppression that have spun the world in a cycle of crises....