Part I: ‘The Spiritual Migration’

From ‘The Great Spiritual Migration’ by Brian McLaren

Read Part I (chapters 1–3) of ‘The Great Spiritual Migration’ by Brian McLaren. Read the short reflection below, then comment about the reading or the reflection!

Part I — The Spiritual Migration

From a System of Beliefs to a Way of Life

1. Crisis by the Palo Verde Tree

We focus on the beliefs, but Jesus is constantly saying it is isn’t the doctrine that matters.

“Our problem isn’t simply a matter of having the wrong beliefs. It’s a matter of believing that right beliefs are what matters most.” -page 22.

This is the crux of McLaren’s personal crisis years ago: that faith was built on a belief system. It wasn’t ultimately based in Jesus himself. Or at least articulated that way. The faith didn’t have the highest priority. The belief system did.

This leads us to wrestle with scripture, truth, and knowledge. Perhaps we have the wrong lens as we approach our work of reading and responding to scripture:

“This willingness of Gospel writers to creatively relocate and adapt events shows why literalistic reading of the Bible are so inappropriate. They try to reduce the ancient tradition of spiritual storytelling to the modern constraints of journalism or historiography.” -page 233.

The example of the Temple “cleansing” is that it isn’t so much the inequality in the economic system alone, but the system of beliefs which shackles the people to Temple sacrifice, and when that goes away, there will be something greater, more to the point, something beyond the “right” belief system to guide and inspire us. So the end (of the Temple) isn’t the end (of faith) but a new beginning of what God is up to with the people.

If we take our scripture as story, rather than rules or constructor of our belief system, we can engage with the action of Jesus and see in it a way of life.

“But we must grapple with this uncomfortable question: if Jesus dared to side with the prophetic tradition and suffer the wrath of the scholastic/priestly establishment, shouldn’t his followers do the same when necessary?” — page 29

That’s why we struggle! We’re focusing on the can, not the Coke. And we do that because talking about the Coke means we might have made a huge mistake.

He ends with a statement about belief and the question of dealing with specific challenges to his belief system as if it can be upgraded or patched. Install this new module to deal with the bad code. But the problem is systemic — like trying to deal with climate change by switching out lightbulbs.

2. A Deeper Loyalty

Science, like religion, is deeply invested in facts. But it’s deepest loyalty isn’t to the facts, but the method. So the scientific method gives guidance for scientists to kill their darlings in the pursuit of truth. An idea far more appealing to me for Christians.

The church has sought instead to deal with the problem of truth with the magisterium (what McLaren refers to as “the Catholic Method” and then a Protestant Method) which is to place the authority in the pope and magisterium and in the Bible respectively. But we’re living in a time in which we are incredibly distrustful of massive institutional “because I said so” and the idea of inerrancy runs counter to how our minds are functioning right now.

The scientific approach lends corrigibility (the capability of learning and changing one’s mind) and credibility. So if we recognized the beauty and power of corrigibility, we can deal with where people are at. But that doesn’t make it easy. It does run us through the buzzsaw of fundamentalism and the elevation of beliefs above reason and transparency and we’re likely to suffer for having a different loyalty.

But if we migrate from a deeper loyalty to specific beliefs (or even a system of belief) and toward a way of life, “how would we describe that way of life toward which we are moving?”

Jesus shows us that love and opportunities to love with compassion, mercy, hope, peace are all more important than following the rules (system of belief).

“In light of Scriptures like these, you might think that the primacy of love would be a settled matter in Christian faith. But here we are two thousand years into this religion, and for many beliefs still rule, and love too often waits out in the hallway, hoping to be invited in and taken more seriously.” — page 47

3. Learning How to Love

McLaren describes his experience of moving out of pastoral ministry and into the pews with a physical relocation to Florida. And he found that what he sought from a church was completely different from the other side. He wanted to be a part of a church that loves. That gets and builds on love as the center of faith.

Educators develop a pedagogy of math, so that they can best educate children on the basic concepts of math.

The Christian religion has been around for two thousand years, and as far as I know, we have no well-conceived pedagogy of love, no love curriculum. (55)

We do love in scattershot and hope our people get it. So what if we started making one?

There are resources, which McLaren names. Then he starts laying out a vision as he sees it. As a former college professor, it sounds like a Love Major, building on these four concepts

  1. Love your neighbors,
  2. Love your enemies,
  3. Love creation, and
  4. Love God. Loving God because loving people and the world is what we do is far more natural and rewarding than loving a concept to which we adhere. (61)

Majoring in love and building our churches into schools of love would mean we’d have to change the focus of our worship and our seasons and name directly our needs.

Questions:

Think of a time in your life in which a story had a major impact on how you behaved, thought, felt, and engaged the world? When have stories made you rethink what you believed or knew about how the world works? how faith works?

What does a deeper loyalty to God than a belief system about God mean for your faith? relationships? church?

If you were creating a Love Curriculum, what textbooks would you choose? What would success look like?