Online Book Discussion with Pastor Keith

September 24 – October 26

“Why Did Jesus, the Buddha, Moses and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World” by Brian McLaren

With author Brian McLaren as our guide, we will explore our similarities and differences with other faiths and why we need more, not less, inter-religious dialogue and partnership if Christianity is to thrive in the 21st Century and beyond.

Overview and Introduction

Thank you for your interest in this study of Brian McLaren’s important work on how to create Christian identity in a multi-faith world. The book is available at libraries, book stores, and online. (Here's a good source) As soon as you get your hands on the book, start reading! 

The format of this study is simple.

  1. Read the book.
  2. Check this page between September 24 and October 26 for weekly reflections.
  3. Leave a comment or ask a question in the space provided (or send me an email, if you prefer).
  4. Join me and other readers/non-readers for a discussion and fellowship at Topics on Tap on Thursday, October 26 at Guadalajara Restaurant in Rogers.

You can learn and explore at your own pace and place, but don’t wait until Topics on Tap to talk about it; post your comments for discussion along the way or talk face-to-face with other participants. Feel free to invite your friends to join you in this study. 

Happy reading!

Pastor Keith


Post #5: Flipping the Scriptures

Posted by Keith Long on OP5er @ 5:37 PM

Suggested Reading: Chapter 22  How Reading the Bible Responsibly Can Look Irresponsible (and Vice Versa)


All of this sounds great from a theological standpoint, doesn’t it?  But what if we take theology out of it? Can we take McLaren’s argument that “all religions play a part in God’s creative, reconciling love” at face value based on how we read the Bible?  Does an inclusive understanding of other World Religions jive with our Christian faith rooted in the scriptures? Is there any scriptural evidence that Jesus actually supported “other” religious inclusivity?


I know, I know – you can justify just about any interpretation of the Bible to support your views, radical or otherwise. People have been ‘flipping’ the Scripture for years, picking and choosing what they like and don’t like—that doesn’t make it right, right?


Turns out, it doesn’t make it wrong either. Just ask the Apostle Paul.


In all Paul’s letters we find a consistent pattern of reinterpretation, whereby his own inherited preferences and prejudices have been revolutionized. In case after case, hostile and violent sections of quoted passages are simply left out so the meaning is artfully and deliberately reshaped according to “the way of peace,” which is the way of Christ. As Flood concludes, “Paul has disarmed Scripture in Jesus’ name.”


Why would Paul do this? Because Jesus did it too!


In his very first public sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-27), Jesus similarly “flips the meaning” of Isaiah (61:1-2) by dropping the phrase “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Lest anyone miss the ‘de-hostilization’ and ‘de-exclusivization’ of his omission, he then refers to the story of the prophet Elijah who was directed by God to help a Sidonian woman—an outsider of another religion. And then he adds the story of the prophet Elisha helping a Syrian man—another outsider of another religion. You can imagine the panic in the minds of Jesus’ neighbors as they process what their homegrown prophet is saying: “What? Is Jesus suggesting that God loves ‘those people’—Sidonians and Syrians’—just as much as ‘us’? Who does he think he is to betray our elite, exclusive identity like this? This is heresy! Blasphemy! Treason!


The more I read the New Testament, the more I clearly realize that this ‘other-aversion’ is at the heart of what the gospel calls us to repent of….walking that path requires us to go back and reread our Scriptures and ‘flip them,’ faithfully picking and choosing—subverting hostility in the strong pursuit of love.


Perhaps you’ve never exhibited hostility towards a person who practices another religion or no religion, but it’s easy to buy-in that Christianity is only ‘for’ Christians, isn’t it? So how does Jesus’ attitude towards outsiders sit with you? In what ways is God opening you to the possibility that you can have both a strong and benevolent Christian identity in our multi-faith world? Where are you being called to practice hospitality and inclusivity toward someone you may have previously only written off as “one of those people?”


Thanks again for reading the book and checking out these posts! I look forward to sharing in some face-to-face conversation with you about this very topic at our next “Topics on Tap” this Thursday, October 26th at Guadalajara from 7-9pm!

Joyce said...

Posted on OP7er @ 6:28 PM -
Atending a luncheon where I was a newbie, I saw a very unattactive woman sitting alone, so I joined her. I discovered that she considered herself a true witch. She had grown up in the Lutheran Church, but had left for a reason she chose not to reveal. I asked her about her religion and found it not to scary. (She was not a Devil worshipper.) She was college educated and had served in the militaryl. Her beliefs about taking care of the earth coincided with my own. I t was a fascinating hour, one that I might have avoided had I known who she was.

Pastor Keith said...

Posted on OP2er @ 1:06 PM -
Yes, that is correct... Flipping Scripture is very much like scripture interpreting scripture! Opening oneself up to the other is of prime importance for our theological commitments moving forward, in my opinion. And it goes beyond mere tolerance. This is an opportunity to live Christ for all, not just those who believe the same as we do.

Luke 6:32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them... 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return."

I think we can all do better to include and even work alongside those of different faiths and beliefs, especially when we are stressing those last four words "expecting nothing in return." It's not about what "they" have to give us or what we have to gain--its about extending grace just because (that is what Christ is about). If we come away feeling mutually impacted--bonus! I wouldn't beat yourself up too much for not having friends of different faiths---your compassionate and open-mind and affirming attitude about "non-Christians" is enough and will lead to good fruit when the opportunity arises!

So glad you read the book and found it meaningful in your personal growth as a disciple!

Tom Benson said...

Posted on OP8er @ 7:02 PM -
Isn't "flipping" scripture one of the tenets of our Lutheran theology under the name of scripture interpreting scripture? If we find a verse questionable don't we bounce it off a verse that we are sure of? I think I have been doing that for a long time.

I believe I have been studying Lutheran theology with blinders on. Applying it to fellow Lutherans and fellow Christians. Never thinking about the other. This book has removed the blinders! I used to think of myself as a pretty good theologian. So good I stopped actively studying theology. However, this book has me thinking I am a novice. I haven't felt this way for 20-25 years when I first started studying theology!

I don't think I have ever exhibited hostility towards a person who practices another religion or no religion. However, I can't say I have many if any friends in that category. Which after reading this book doesn't sound too good.

Looking forward to Guadalajara

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Post #4: What do you love about Jesus?

Posted by Keith Long on OA9er @ 9:59 AM

Suggested Reading: Chapters  16 & 17


“Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible…all things have been created through him and for him.” -Colossians 1:15


“For in him, we live and move and have our being.” –The Apostle Paul, Acts 17:28 quoting the Greek poet Aratus


The Holy Spirit preexists all religions, cannot be contained by any single religion, and therefore can’t be claimed as private property by any one religion.


What we call secular is actually the realm or domain of the Spirit.


In other words, we would expect the one Holy Spirit to be moving, working, “hovering” over each religion—and also in the space between religions, inviting people into conversation, exchange, even communion, across the boundaries that have in the past separated them.


The thing that continually stands out to me about Jesus is his inclusivity in his relationships and interactions. I never get the sense that anyone was out of sight, out of mind with Jesus. Everyone, even those feisty and short-sighted Pharisees were invited to take part in God’s kingdom. Jesus knew how to keep the most important thing the most important thing: Love your neighbor as God loves us.


Have you ever considered that maybe we’ve gotten Christianity all wrong?  Not that the version we’ve inherited is necessarily bad, but is it possible that what we thought was most important about being a Christian is actually misguided? Maybe even a little harmful?


It is very easy to cling so tightly to something that it changes ever so imperceptibly until it becomes an entirely different thing. I think that is the case when we look at how followers of Jesus have, over periods of time, treated people of different religious faiths. Instead of seeing Muslims, Jews or Hindus as our neighbors in need of our love, grace and friendship, they have been treated with animosity for not believing as we do.


And yet, what if “what we call secular is actually the realm of the Holy Spirit”? What if what we judge as outside of God’s favor is in fact being gathered, blessed and sent for the advancement of God’s kingdom? What if the Holy Spirit isn’t ours to hoard or defend as Christian believers, but rather we are but one expression and body part of the whole Holy Spirit’s work in our midst?


Is it possible that all religions play a part in God’s creative, reconciling love for all things?


*Check out Brian McLaren's interview on MPR's new show "Flyover" (from 10/15/17) which discussed religion here

Pastor Keith said...

Posted on OP4er @ 3:51 PM -

Tom Benson said...

Posted on OP1er @ 12:45 PM -
What do I love about Jesus? Unconditional love, forgiveness and acceptance. Freedom from sin, death, the devil, and the law. The assurance of salvation. His inclusiveness. That all this isn't just for Christians.

Until I read this book I was very content with "my theology" and the ELCA. In fact I had pretty much stopped studying theology. I figured I knew enough. However, this book has proved me wrong. This idea of "the other" has expanded my thinking. It never occurred to me that other religions might have something good to offer.

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Post #3: Possessed

Posted by Keith Long on OA9er @ 9:32 AM

Suggested Reading: Chapter 8


“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.” –Matthew 12:43-45


In our attempts to exorcise the strong and hostile religious identities that are so familiar to us, we may be possessed by the demons of other identities that are equally strong and perhaps even more hostile. The old truism echoes back to us once again: the only good antidote to bad religion is not no religion, but good religion, or, slightly altered, the antidote to strong-hostile religion is not weak-benign religion, but strong-benevolent religion.


So, if both strong-hostile and weak-benign Christian identities produce undesirable unintended consequences, we have to imagine ways both can be redeemed and transformed into what we need. –McLaren, pg. 67


If you haven’t already done so, take Brian’s ten-item “test” on page 67 that asks you to respond to each question using the scale from 0 = absolutely untrue to 5 = strongly agree. Then take some time to ponder and answer the questions Brian poses following the test.

Pastor Keith said...

Posted on OA11er @ 10:03 AM -
Yes! I love this line of thinking too. I imagine a much different world if we learn to let go of the need to be the only religion whose got everything "right." Let's let our love for one another define us, not just what we say we are and what we believe... And I agree with you about Anne Rice. She reminds me of so many of my friends and others who have walked away from organized religion.

Tom Benson said...

Posted on OP2er @ 1:24 PM -
I believe Hostility should be replaced by Solidarity. I think History could be changed by expanding Christian history with something like "all faiths" history. Missionality could be expanded by participating in the mission of all faiths. Loyality could be expanded by saying we are connected to people of all faiths. It seems to me that these type of changes are radical and revolutionary.

Page 40. My favorite quote: "In a pluralistic world a religion is judged by the benefits it brings to its nonmembers" I have never heard such a thing. It makes so much sense to me.

I have heard of Anne Rice. I sort of knew she was an atheist. But I didn't know the whole story. She thinks she isn't a Christian but I think she is! She just quit being a member of a Christian religion.

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Post #2: Overcoming Hostility

Posted by Keith Long on OA11er @ 11:13 AM

*Thank you for your comments and thoughtful reflections on the reading so far! I look forward to discussing your learning and questions face to face (on October 26th at Guadalajara.) Can't wait till then? Call or email if you'd like to grab coffee with me to talk about anything you're reading. 


Suggested Reading: Chapter 2

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” –Matthew 5:9


Whether we realize it or not, most of us who suffer from CRIS are trying to distance ourselves from religious hostility. By hostility I mean opposition, the sense that the other is the enemy…the other must be turned away, kept at a distance as an unwanted outsider, not welcomed in hospitality as a guest or friend. Hostility is an attitude of exclusion, not embrace; of repugnance, not respect; of suspicion, not extending the benefit of the doubt; of conflict, not conviviality.


Those of us with CRIS don’t want to be held hostage to a religion that is hostile toward science and learning, hostile toward honest questions and new ways of thinking, and above all, hostile toward other human beings—especially those of other religions (or other versions of our own religion). Something deep in our conscience tells us that hostility is part of the problem to be overcome in the world, not the means by which problems will be overcome. Hostility is a symptom of the disease, not part of the cure.  –McLaren, pgs. 19-20


Have you ever wondered or felt these same things about your Christian faith? Many adult Christians in this world have walked away from the faith of their childhood over the inability to reconcile their beliefs in a benevolent God with a religious system that condones violence and hostility for people outside the Christian faith. Perhaps you know someone that fits that description, or maybe you’re contemplating exile yourself. You are not alone. CRIS is real and it is incredibly difficult to “cure” – it never ceases to both astonish and repulse what things are spoken, acted or assumed to be true in the name of Christianity by so-called Bible-affirming and Jesus loving people across this nation and globe.


There is among our churches, communities and families a disease of dis-ease, of fear, anxiety and suspicion that will continue to go on subtly destroying the fabric of peace and unity that holds us together in beloved communion until we can courageously begin to name and explore the why’s behind those feelings.


Think of a time when you felt hostile towards another person or group. What was the cause of your anger/hostility? Did you find a peaceful way to resolve your hostile thoughts/feelings? Think of a person or group of people whom act with hostility today. What do you think is behind their hostility?

Pastor Keith said...

Posted on OP4er @ 3:30 PM -
We will meet and discuss the book at Guadalajara this month, Thursday October 26th 7-9pm. Thanks for your reflection & engagement with the book Tom! "Who wants to be just tolerated?" So true. Jesus never said, "Tolerate thy neighbor" did he?

Tom Benson said...

Posted on OP1er @ 12:24 PM -
I am guilty of CRIS. I try to distance myself from the Wisconsin and Missouri Synod by saying I am a "liberal" Lutheran. To be honest If you are a Christian and don't think like I do I am not to hospitable. Frankly I don't have as much a problem with people of other faiths or people with no faith. Although it would be hard to prove since I don't have any friends or experience with people of different faiths. Since I consider myself liberal I always thought that I was tolerant. But now that I think of it "tolerant" is not that great a verb. Who wants to be just tolerated? I am seeing myself in a different light. Not a good light.

ps: Kristin's quote of Gerhard Forde in her sermon on Sunday was my favorite Forde quote. I was in Heaven!

Question: are we meeting at Guadalajara or St Michael Theater?

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Post #1: What’s (your) Jesus like?

Posted by Keith Long on OA10er @ 10:20 AM

Suggested Reading: Chapter 1


“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine and you say, “He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” -Luke 7:33-34


If you love Jesus, if you know and have confidence in him as Lord, Savior, Son of God, Son of Man, God incarnate, Word made flesh, and more, let me ask you to seriously consider this: how do you think Jesus would treat Moses, Mohammed, and Siddhartha Gautama (The Buddha) if they came to a crosswalk together?


It’s pretty hard to imagine that “the friend of sinners” would cross his arms or turn his back…It seems ridiculous to imagine that he would intimidate them, threaten them, call down fire upon them, patronize them, or humiliate them. Maybe his followers would…but never Jesus. Never. -McLaren, Pgs. 3-5


The discrepancy between Jesus’s behavior and his followers’ is the common butt of religious jokes. There is always this sense of, “why were they so slow to understand?” I’ve heard many preachers and teachers over the years refer to the disciples as the “duh-ciples.” And while it’s true that even two thousand years later we still encounter many “Christians” who appear to profess Jesus with their lips but deny him with their lifestyle, the truth of the matter is that following Jesus in his footsteps is very, very difficult. There is so much risk involved in befriending sinners, outcasts and ‘the other.’ It sounds reasonable at first, but when we have to live it out?


Being a Christian requires living like Christ, not just believing the right things about him. If we examined what we do or don’t do in the name of Jesus, I wonder how many of those actions would actually reflect what Jesus taught, lived and died for? Getting those answers and exploring the content of this book requires us to first and foremost think about our personal Christian identity—what it truly means to believe in Jesus and follow him. And to get to the root of that, you must first wrestle with and explore the identity you’ve given to Jesus himself.


So, what’s your Jesus like?


“I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party. I like to think of Jesus with like giant eagles wings and singin’ lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with like an Angel Band…” Cal Naughton Jr, from the film Talladaga Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Joyce said...

Posted on OP7er @ 6:56 PM -
I would love to join the discussion at Guadalaharas but I don't like to drive after dark. However, I've found the book really gave me some new insights into dividing the wold into us and other. I am guilty. I heartily agree with the concept of listening to each other and coming together in our common interests. The one place I have questions about is the chapter on picking and choosing the Bible passages with which we agree (although I admit to doing it.) How can we say the Bible is the Word of God if we only claim the parts we agree with?

Joyce said...

Posted on OP4er @ 3:30 PM -
When I suggested at age 19 that other religions no doubt had important things to say also, I was "excommunicated " from the church (Wisconsin Synod Lutheran) for heresy. I like this book well enough to buy it, if I can find it.

Elain Edge said...

Posted on OP12er @ 11:32 AM -
The author hits me right between the eyes on pages 9-10, when he says those of us who have a strong Christian identity may also have a strong aversion to other religions because we want people of other faiths to "get it right," or we tend to weaken our identity by not speaking out about what we believe because we don't want to appear judgmental. When he writes "My pursuit, not just in this book, but in my life, is a Christian identity that moves me toward people of other faiths in wholehearted love................" sounds like Jesus' example to me.

TOM BENSON said...

Posted on OP7er @ 6:51 PM -

Dick again said...

Posted on OP6er @ 5:00 PM -
Read the first chapter. My knee jerk reaction, reading the list of leaders of other religions, only one Christ is God incarnate, none of the others make such a claim. I related very well to the pages starting at the last paragraph on page 8 to the end of the chapter.

Stephanie said...

Posted on OP5er @ 4:50 PM -
Downloading tonight on my kindle!

Dick Reynolds said...

Posted on OP3er @ 2:07 PM -
I purchased the book today at Barns and Noble it is the only one in town. For those who want the book Barns and Noble can get them within 3 to 4 days.

It's late dut will try to read the first chapter yet today

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