For The Someday Book

Book Review: More Ready Than You Realize

Posted on: May 31, 2011

More Ready Than You Realize: Evangelism as Dance in the Postmodern Matrix, by Brian D. McLaren, Zondervan, 2002, 188 pp.

I think Brian McLaren knows a lot about how to talk to people outside the church about God’s story. I want to learn how to do that too. So, when I came across his direct writings on the subject, I was in.

This book is structured around a real evangelism conversation. The conversation took place over e-mail over the course of several years between McLaren and a woman simply identified as “Alice.” The book includes all of Alice’s inquiring e-mails to McLaren, along with some of his responses, an analysis of the questions behind her inquiry, and suggestions on how to handle similar questions. While it sounds a bit contrived, the book manages to avoid oversimplification and Alice’s voice keeps the dialogue fresh and real.

The overall approach McLaren adopts and advocates is “spiritual friendship.” It’s not about getting doctrine right, teaching someone the correct path or having a confidence in the truth of Christian principles. It’s about listening, learning and befriending people who are outside of the faith but seeking and questioning and grappling with faith questions. McLaren engages questions with questions, speaks on Alice’s own terms in her own language, and dedicates himself to continuing the relationship over winning a convert.

He writes, “Sometimes belonging must precede believing. … If people can belong long enough to observe how God is alive among us, if people can belong long enough to see authentic love among us, if they can belong long enough to see whatever good exists in our lives as individuals and as a community, they can come to believe.” (84-85) In his conversation with Alice, it is clear that she can participate in the Christian community with his church and in her friendship with him regardless of her belief. It is that openness that eventually opens her heart to the love of God. In so many Christian communities, belonging is contingent upon believing. This is not how Jesus operated, and not how we should operate. Thankfully, we in the United Church of Christ preach and try to practice welcome and hospitality first and foremost.

As always, McLaren provides cutting, insightful questions and ways of stating the truth of God that are both novel and orthodox, bold and beautiful. He offers great questions for engaging people in faith conversations, like “Where are you in your relationship with God? How would you describe your relationship with God right now?” (108) He describes God’s plans for our lives like parents’ plans for the lives of their children–not a well-defined track, but a path toward joy and fulfillment, marked by both freedom and determination. (121)

One of the ideas I liked most, which I heard echoed in the Unbinding the Gospel series, is that the work of inviting people into relationship with Jesus and the church is not about getting them into heaven or into our pews. It is not about fulfilling their needs or the church’s. It is about engaging fellow workers in God’s field, training up more missionaries to aid the cause of God’s mission. We are inviting people to join us in making this world a better place by being God’s servants in it.

Much of what is radical to conservative Christians (de-emphasizing doctrine, putting earth before heaven, engaging in friendship with non-believers) is the essential and normative terrain for progressive Christians like me. What I don’t know, and what McLaren has to offer, is how to continue to believe in evangelism and do the work of inviting people to Christ in this context. What’s radical for progressive Christians is believing and acting as though we have something valuable worth sharing. McLaren offers a wealth of insight on how to do that in ways that are relational, invitational and welcoming—not harsh, judging or bullying.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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