A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey (San Francisco; Jossey-Bass, 2001), 173pp.
Let me come clean at the outset of this review. I picked up this book with some wariness, assuming that I would be a critical friend of its perspective. After finishing the book and reflecting on it, I would call myself more of a friendly critic, finding it less helpful than I would have hoped, and more dangerous than I would have thought.
This book is an account of a journey out of that kind of reactionary conservatism that acts as if it is already in possession of all answers to all questions—as if omniscience were one of God’s communicable attributes. The way McLaren has chosen to write his suggestive critique is in the form of a fictional dialogue between two characters—Dan Poole, a tired and middle-aged pastor, weary of external trials and internal questions, and Neil Edward Oliver, a high school teacher (and former pastor) and Pastor Dan’s own sherpa guide into the inviting wilds of postmodernity. This second character is called—acronymically—“NEO” throughout. Yes, he really is. This well prepares the reader for the subtlety which marks the book.
Questions of literary merit are best left to others. Just know that I had the temptation to review the book with a Peter Kreeft-like dialogue between J. Gresham Machen and Father Stephanie, rector of the nearby Church of the Holy Inarticulate Conception. But I resisted.
Certainly truth can come in the garb of fiction. This is no new insight of our narrative-loving age. From the brief parables of Jesus to Erasmus’ In Praise of Folly, and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, works of fiction have long been understood to be appropriate vehicles for bringing uncomfortable facts to light. Behind the masks of characters, we may entertain and empathize, criticize and consider ideas which, had they appeared straightforwardly, we would quickly dismiss or wrongly defend. But art not only reveals; it also conceals.