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"I believe it to be a great mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offense in it....We cannot blink at the fact that gentle Jesus meek and mild was so stiff in his opinions and so inflammatory in his language that he was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted from place to place, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger. Whatever his peace was, it was not the peace of an amiable indifference."
"You can't conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God." - Graham Greene
Brian McLaren sets out to redefine Christianity as a story instead of a philosophy/theology, and I respect that. The only problem is, he tells a completely BORING story - in five chapters, all starting with C. There is no drama. No tension. No heroes, no great feats, no intricate twists or surprise turns. Basically, it's the story of a nice God and mean people, and all of the nice things this nice God does for the mean people, and all of the mean things these mean people do to this nice God. Yawn.
I hate being called "nice." It's such a sterile, safe, powerless, harmless adjective. Nice is what your parents want you to be. Nice is who your parents want you to marry. I'd rather be called just about anything else. I'd imagine God feels the same way.
For example - McLaren finally, after dancing around it, deals with hell towards the end of the book. Except his hell - the hell of a nice God - is more like a cancer ward or a hospice
than anything (ironic, as much of the book takes place in a cancer ward.) God doesn't "condemn" people to hell per se - He's just unable to save them. Like a doctor to a cancer patient he says something like, "I'm sorry, but there's not much I can do for you. If you'd have come to me sooner..." So it really has to do with nice God's inability to save everyone - the limits of his power. (Don't mistake me here - I'm not a fan of the eternal damnation, implements of torture, Dante-esque and Southern Baptist version of hell. I don't know what hell is, or what it will be like. The Bible doesn't speak of it much. But I do suspect it will have more to do with justice than with God's incompetence.)
Why do we always do this? WHY do we always feel like we've got to dress God up in a new suit, clean Him up, straighten his collar, wipe that smudge off his cheek? "I want you to meet some of my friends - so behave. Be a nice God." We skip over or deliberately fuzz out the UN-nice parts of the story -- God stuffing the ungrateful Israelites with quail until they puke, or giving David three choices of decimation, or Jesus calling his best friend bad names. Come on, God. Be nice. Nice doggie.
And in doing so, we lose the best parts of the story. The heroes. The battles. Incredible risk, incredible cost. The danger, the thrill, the mystery: the utter STRANGENESS of mercy and redemption, of blood sacrifice and blessed suffering. This is a wonderful, intoxicating, story, if we'll remember to tell it right.
Be honest - do you really want a nice God? Does anybody?