Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? – A review
In Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? Brian McLaren argues for Christians to get along with people of other faiths as he is sure that the leaders of these faiths would have been hospitable and respectful to each other.
His main point is that being strong in our faith should result in such a loving attitude and not one that stands violently opposed to those who disagree with us. I would agree with this important message but some of his ideas do need some careful thought and unpacking.
What does McLaren mean by not being hostile?
McLaren challenges the way that many Christians have engaged with other faiths. Rather then excluding people of other religions from our lives if we are to be faithful followers of Christ we should be going out of our way to be friendly and hospitable towards them.
However in seeking to be non-hostile I feel McLaren goes too far by seeing other faiths as somehow compatible with Christianity and underplaying the need for conversion. I wonder if this comes from an over-reaction to the intolerance shown particularly of Muslims by Evangelicals in the States.
Where does McLaren stand doctrinally?
In getting to his conclusions there are some detailed doctrinal arguments to sift through. Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? surprisingly tackles the Christians doctrines of the atonement, original sin and hell in ways you might not have expected.
McLaren certainly believes that Jesus died for our sins but he rejects the penal substitute explanation of atonement. He also rethinks the doctrine of origin sin and rejects the notion that any people end up in hell. Personally I wouldn’t agree with these ideas and I fear they may be too much for many evangelicals to stomach.
Does McLaren say that all roads lead to God?
No. McLaren talks about the uniqueness of Christ and our message and the importance of sharing that. He does not hold to a pluralism that says all faiths are just different paths to God. However I feel that he needs to take care not to lose the distinctiveness of the gospel and the distinction between those who are and those who are not Christ’s disciples.
In one of his stories there is a good description of the work of the Holy Spirit at an inter-faith meeting that many evangelicals and charismatics can say ‘Amen’ to. But there is also some speculation about the ways that the Holy Spirit might be at work in other religions that I felt needed more justification.
How should we apply McLaren’s teachings?
McLaren suggests a place for people coming to faith in Christ yet staying within their own religion. It would be interesting to see how this might work in practice. I must confess to reservations with this but suspect that he is talking more about a cultural definition of religion than a spiritual one.
I think there are some clearer and more helpful applications of this book:
- He encourages Christian organisations to work together with other faiths in charitable work. Those who see mission as mainly evangelistic may fear this compromises their message. If so, it is obviously not for them. Yet if your aim is primarily to bless and serve people then this could be a very positive move enabling you to rub shoulders and have spiritual conversations with both those you are serving and those who are helping.
- Something that we can all definitely do as a result of reading this book is to get to know people of other faiths. Invite them to a meal and as well as sharing our stories of Jesus, listen carefully to their stories and begin to see how they see the world.
In conclusion I would see much to engage with in this book. Even though I would not agree with all of McLaren’s conclusions I found plenty of food for thought.
Tony Jones one of McLaren’s fellow Emergent Church leaders gives more a detailed discussion on what it might mean to rethink the doctrine of original sin.
An outline of models of the atonement that is both scholarly and readable showing that penal substitution is only one approach to the doctrine of the atonement.
Gregory MacDonald (a pseudonym for Robin Parry) gives a very good Biblical argument for Universalism – that all are saved in the end. Although personally I can’t quite agree with his conclusions I feel that this book clearly shows that this can be a Christian position and should not be rejected lightly.
This book criticises both the Universalist position and the position that only those who have explicitly made a decision for Christ will be saved – and comes down on a position in between that acknowledges the fact that God is not just revealed through Christianity.
Colin Chapman discusses how Christians should understand Islam and points out the need for Christians to interact hospitably with their Muslim friends.