One of the highlights of the Wild Goose Fest in June was swinging by the Jericho Books (an imprint of Hachette) booth to meet Publisher Wendy Grisham and talk about their bold plans to shake things up in the staid world of Christian publishing. They do seem to be breaking down walls with multiple releases of strong titles this fall, including books from Jay Bakker and Shane Hipps. But probably the biggest book will be released on September 11: Brian McLaren’s provocatively titled Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World. Ms. Grisham was sharing advance uncorrected proofs of the book, and I happily grabbed one.
It was a fascinating read, to say the least. In his usual style, Brian homes in on the best and most important questions, taking them places that are all at once unexpected and obvious. He has a real gift for flipping an issue on its head and allowing the reader to see how upside down our thinking often is.
In this forthcoming book, Brian notes the commonly held perspective that sees religion as necessarily oppositional– each brand of religion tends to define itself not as an ‘Us’, but rather against a ‘Them’. Too often, a strong sense of religious identity is equated with hostility, but strength should instead bring benevolence (rather than violence). Being strong doesn’t mean being overpowering, but rather stable and secure. A strong faith and religious identity should allow– and even compel! — adherents to be hospitable and patient and open. It should make people who are diligent listeners, rather than shrill speakers. Which reminds me of my constant curiosity about Jesus’ compelling sense of confidence and stability. It seems to me that he had nothing to prove, and that is a trait in short supply in our pluralist world.
For chapter after pithy chapter, McLaren offers unconventional takes on common Christian doctrines, culminating in the final chapter where he recounts the epistolary conversation between the famous missionary to India E. Stanley Jones and Mahatma Gandhi. Which is a friendly conversation that deeply stirs the imagination– two more unfortunately uncommon experiences in our day and age.