One of the things that make Brian McLaren such a great writer is his tremendous fluidity with words – he is the kind of author who draws you along with the flow of his prose while others seem determined to trip you up with theirs. There’s a risk though, with authors who have this persuasive and easy going prose style, that their content doesn’t hit the sort of heights you might want it to. At first I was concerned this might be the case here – I’ve read many books about spiritual development and I was worried that McLaren was going to present a simplified version of other schemas. I shouldn’t have worried – not only is this a deliciously good read, it is also full of quality ingredients.
McLaren, a pastor and an educator, presents a gentle and hopeful picture of the direction in which doubt can lead us. Rather than presenting a simplified version of ideas by the likes of Fowler and Rohr, he actually improves on them – and demonstrates convincingly why those who spend a lot of time in theological reflection often find it particularly hard to find a home in the church to which they belong.
He correctly (I think) identifies key moments of crisis that precipitate movement from one stage of spiritual development to another and speaks insightfully of the ever-present split between conservative and progressive ‘wings’ of Christianity.
It feels like a very timely book – one which sets out to explain the problem that a lot of people are currently facing as the faith ‘journey’ seems to accelerate so that the kind of experiences that were once commonly faced towards the end of life are now often faced in middle age or even earlier. It is written through the lens of someone who has walked the path and has emerged with the sort of acceptance which characterises the truly spiritually mature. “I do not regret my journey of faith and doubt, because I do not regret who I have become.” He notes. Not enough of us are able or willing to talk about doubt and the part it has to play in our lives – but without it we remain stuck, for we must learn to lose if we wish to gain anything of great value. If you want that pearl of great price, after all, you must first sell all you have.
The book begins with a Paul Tillich quote which seems to serve as a touchstone for McLaren: “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith, it is an element of faith… Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.”
I’ve read a number of Brian’s books – and his early work was important at a formative time in my own spiritual development. This, I think, may be his best work yet.