Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed cross the road?
There is no punch line. The question doubles as the title of the new book by evangelical author Brian McLaren. In 2001, he launched a revolution in evangelical culture with A New Kind of Christian, the first book in a trilogy that attempted to reframe Christian beliefs as what McLaren called “a generous orthodoxy.”
No evangelical has contributed more to the discussion of inclusive orthodoxy than McLaren. Widely read and regularly accused of heresy, he was pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Md., until 2006. Since then, he has traveled the world, writing and speaking to audiences, especially young evangelicals.
McLaren is coming to Oklahoma City in support of his new book, the subtitle of which is Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World. It attempts to answer a question that has troubled him since he wrote A New Kind of Christian: “What does love for my neighbor look like if my neighbor doesn’t want to convert?” “American Christianity has done two things well,” McLaren said. “We know how to have a strong Christian identity that is hostile to other faiths, or we have a weak Christian identity that tolerates other faiths.”
McLaren seeks to create a strong Christian identity that is benevolent toward other faiths. He sees it as not just a theological issue, but a geopolitical necessity.
“We are facing monumental global crises — the environment, the divide between rich and poor, proliferation of nuclear weapons, the threat of catastrophic war,” he said. “Governments and religions cannot tackle these problems alone.”
The solution, McLaren believes, is to take the advice of fellow evangelical Rick Warren.
“Warren likes to say that he’s not interested in interfaith dialogue as much as he’s interested in interfaith projects. If we can do that, it can open up a new chapter in Christian mission,” he said.
For McLaren, the word “mission” doesn’t necessarily refer to proselytization. As an evangelical, he’s comfortable sharing his faith, but the mission, for him, is more action-oriented, and occasionally demands that Christians speak up in defense of other faiths.
“We have actually had Christians mobilizing to prevent the building of mosques in the United States,” he said. “Do you think Muslims in those cities feel like they have loving Christian neighbors? We have to speak up with them and in their defense.”