He was sitting in the front row. He was waiting his turn to speak.
I was sitting in the second row behind him, waiting to hear what he would say, along with a couple hundred other people also waiting in the audience.
I watched as he discretely pulled out his phone. Maybe he was answering a text. Maybe he was typing a note.
And something about this made me smile as he typed . . .
Because he was typing on his phone with just his pointer finger.
Not texting with both thumbs. Not swiping. Not even using both pointer fingers.
He was just using one lone index finger to strike one tiny letter at a time, like many of us do in our generation who didn’t grow up texting like today’s kids.
He then finished his note. And put his phone away.
It turns out Brian McLaren is just as normal as the rest of us.
It was endearing. Because it was so human.
Stay or Go?
Listening to Brian speak at the Christian conference we were attending lit even more fire within me about his latest book, Do I Stay Christian?: A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned.
In person and in writing, Brian infers that the American Christian church is in trouble.
And don’t we all see it, too? I sometimes wonder how much further back in the pews we can keep shoving Christ until we eventually kick him out of the door altogether, just another unnecessary hindrance to the latest Christian agenda.
Who is ready to walk away from this troubled Christianity? And who is determined to stay?
And for those who do choose to stay, how can Christianity include more Jesus and more grace and more love again?
Part 1: Do I Stay Christian? No
These are the types of questions that Brian poses to his readers in Do I Stay Christian. He divides the book into three sections: reasons not to stay Christian, reasons to stay Christian, and how to stay Christian.
In Part 1 of Do I Stay Christian?, Brian lists 10 reasons why many people choose not to remain Christian.
Here are five of those reasons:
- Because Christianity has been vicious to its mother (anti-semitism)
- Because of Christianity’s suppression of dissent (Christian vs. Christian violence)
- Because of Christianity’s real master (money)
- Because of the white Christian old boys’ network (white patriarchy)
- Because of Christianity’s great wall of bias (constricted intellectualism)
Behind each title is a wealth of information included in each chapter, plus five more chapters.
Part 2: Do I Stay Christian? Yes
But what are some reasons you would want to stay Christian? In Part 2 of this book, Brian lists ten reasons.
Five of these reasons for staying are:
- Because leaving defiantly or staying compliantly are not my only options
- Because…where else would I go?
- Because of our legendary Founder
- Because I’m human
- Because Christianity is changing (for the worse and for the better)
Again, these titles alone don’t tell the story. Brian goes into depth inside every chapter and the remaining five chapters.
Part 3: If I Stay Christian, How?
In Part 3 of the book, Brian gives us the how-to for staying Christian in a way that is good for ourselves and for our fellow human beings.
Some of the ways include:
- Start with the heart
- Create positive alternatives
- Prepare yourself for turbulence
- Nurture the practice of spiritual resilience
- Stay loyal to reality
- Stay human
But the book really doesn’t even end there. If you stick it out to the end, you’ll also find five appendices, including this one: “Do I Stay in My Denomination?”
All Humans Together
In the end Brian decides for himself, “So, no. I will not quit. Not today. Today I will stay Christian.“
I’m grateful. I like having a humble, intelligent, kind, and Christian leader like Brian to listen to and learn from.
But I also like having a leader like Brian who isn’t afraid or ashamed to share his doubts, disappointments, and disillusionments. Like the ones I have. Perhaps you, too?
As Brian says, we aren’t looking for a cure for being human; what we need is help to become humane.
“Our problems are not just religious problems. Nor are they merely political, economic, or scientific problems. Our problems are human problems.”
Being human by ourselves can feel exhausting. But Christianity is meant to bring us back together, not push us further apart.
When we see our own humanness in others too—even in the smallest ways such as texting each other with our pointer fingers—we smile in recognition.
I imagine God smiles, too.
So, I also choose to stay Christian, for as long as we keep Christ in it.
I highly recommend the book Do I Stay Christian? for those who are prepared to ask themselves the hard questions, and who don’t give up even when there aren’t clear answers. Because, as Brian points out, “If our understandings of God do not grow, neither will we.”
Share your thoughts in the comments.
My thanks to NetGalley + St. Martin’s
Press for the review copy of this book
sharing at these linkups