THIS is a book about conversion. Brian McLaren, an American pastor and writer, poses his title question to those who can’t quite accept a Christianity that they have outgrown.
McLaren writes repeatedly about his personal journey from a rigid, usually termed “conservative” Christianity to a faith that seeks to be more open to questions and doubt. He does this with clear acknowledgement of his own context: American, white, and on the side of the politically powerful. This context casts a long shadow over much of what he says. At times, the reader will struggle to catch up with his political concerns.
The basic premise is simple: the faith in which we grew up, or that we adopted, no longer seems to fit the reality of today’s world as we encounter it. So, McLaren suggests three paths: get out (No to the question of the book’s title), stay (Yes), and survive (How).
Many chapters have a similar structure. Someone comes up to, or contacts, McLaren — the author often refers to himself, his talks, and his writings — and he shares the dismay of someone who no longer finds it possible to continue in the position, belief, or community that is causing them discomfort.
There is much repetition of some issues that clearly unnerve McLaren: American imperialism, the power of money and influence in parts of the United States’ political system, the gun lobby, the demonisation of the other, and the oppression of women, people of colour, and LGBTQ+ persons.
In his chapters on the reasons to abandon Christianity, there is a seeming obsessive quality of his context with the broader issues at stake, including violence, colonialism, and patriarchy. The reader is left in no doubt about McLaren’s unease with the white, moneyed, politically powerful churches that have aligned themselves with the questionable politics of the US Right and Trumpism. These are confined, he says, by a biblical constipation that asserts rather than explores.
Many of the same concerns flow into his reasons for staying, which have a familiar ring to them: things are changing, love of Jesus, solidarity with the oppressed, and the climate crisis.
The book hits its stride in the third section. Here, McLaren points to universal concerns about life together on a planet inhabited by people of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and faiths, and about the search for a common way to respond to the issues that they face. This could be seen cynically as a soft-focus Christianity that lacks rigour.
The author goes some way to assuring readers that the humanity that they share is both a religious and universal calling: “Loyalty to reality does not feel like certainty. It feels more like humility. It feels like awe, wonder, curiosity, patient attentiveness. It evokes Jesus’ calls to the perpetual rethinking of repentance, to lifelong childlikeness, to the cultivation of the born-again or beginner’s mind.”
The Revd Kevin Scully is a poet and retired priest.
Do I Stay Christian? A guide for the doubters, the disappointed and the disillusioned
Brian D. McLaren
Hodder & Stoughton £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.49