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Naked Spirituality and The Other Jesus: A Conversation between Brian McLaren and Greg Garrett

April 06, 2011

By Greg Garrett and Brian McLaren

Brian and Greg's paths first crossed over a decade ago when their mutual friend Chris Seay persuaded Greg to read Brian's forthcoming book A New Kind of Christian and actually consider this new understanding of faith. Since then, the two have become friends, reading and encouraging each other's work, and meeting for a drink or a meal when they find themselves in the same town. In addition to their mutual love for writing and speaking about how God might be moving in the world, these two old English majors share a love of music, travel, the outdoors, and the novels of Walker Percy. This interview is the product of three weeks of emails exchanged as Greg and Brian crisscrossed the country. In this conversation, Brian and Greg discuss their new books and the passion that drives them to talk about authentic faith and practice.

Greg Garrett: Brian, you've written a number of books about how we might understand Christian belief and practice in ways that people might conceivably find more life-giving than the ones they know, or think they know. A Generous Orthodoxy. A New Kind of Christianity. In some ways, Naked Spirituality feels more explicitly spiritual than theological, although of course they're not mutually exclusive. Why did you decide to write this book now?

Brian McLaren: First, Greg, I should say that I was a pastor for twenty-four years. As a pastor, of course I was involved with theological matters, but really, my primary focus was spiritual formation. From week to week, I was helping people find faith, keep faith, strengthen faith, share faith, and live faith. Or to put it differently, I was helping people develop a life with God. So this book in large part flows from my experience as a pastor.

But it also is motivated by my experience these last several years as a writer, speaker, activist, and networker working in this marginal and liminal zone people call "emergence." I've noticed a struggle in a lot of people's lives. They developed a spiritual life in a certain theological context—a fundamentalist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Calvinist, or institutional context, for example—and now that context is disintegrating for them. They've outgrown fundamentalism or questioned Calvinism or lost confidence in religious institutions. As a result, their spiritual lives are fragmenting and falling apart. Once they lose a certain framework for thinking and talking about God, they begin to lose God—as if the two were the same thing.
I discovered through my own spiritual struggles that the two aren't the same.

There's a difference between having confidence in God and having confidence in my theories about God. That kind of naked, direct confidence in and connection with God is what I'm trying to foster and encourage in Naked Spirituality.

Which brings me to my question for you, Greg. I just finished The Other Jesus and I'm so glad you've written it. I was struck by many things, starting with the book's simplicity and accessibility—together with its depth. "Simplicity with depth," I guess you could call it. It seems to me that there are lots of "complexity with depth" books and "simplicity without depth" books, but not enough like yours that combine simplicity and depth.

I had the feeling that this book was addressed to people who may have come from backgrounds like ours—conservative Evangelical or fundamentalist—whose inherited faith subsequently fell apart, and are now trying to put the pieces back together. First, am I right in describing your intended audience, and second, why do you think "simplicity with depth" is so important in helping people rebuild their faith after a collapse? And why is it so rare?

Read the rest of this conversation at Patheos.com here.


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