Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Current Religion Color: Rainbow!

I was assigned to blog on the last part of Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christianity. So here goes -

Like the other parts of this book, Part X: The What-Do-We-Do-Now Question is divided into three chapters that I will address in turn.

Chapter 20: How Can We Translate Our Question Into Action?
He opens with one of the quotes that has always appealed to me from Acts 5:38-39 (It's accuracy is debatable but it poses an interesting question that can be applied to all major religions) - the words are said by Rabbi Gamaliel, speaking out against those who wish to destroy Christians.

So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!’
What does a quote like this mean for religious pluralism? Can this statement not be applied to all of the world religions? Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism itself are all validated in this quote's framework if we consider a religion's success based on numbers and longevity. 

The other quote, McLaren's own that I appreciated (on page 227) was this:

When the head, heart and hand come together...then faith, reason and tradition will come together too, and personal and social holiness will be for us two expressions of one great love.

He then went on to do something that was a combination of mixed metaphors and gave me pause. Like many others who want to take a macrocosmic view at history, McLaren took a stab and describing the history of Christianity in terms of seven stages - complete with their own colors. The easiest way for me to explain it is to do a diagram:
Problem: Presented in a progressive way - as though one moved cleanly from the other and all people made this transition at the same time. But wait! We're all at different places in this quest! (233) 

And each part is not better than the one before it, "the new stage into which we are growing isn't right; it's simply appropriate and adequate for the challenges we now face"(237) - but isn't this sentence implying that there is one that's preferable, because it's more appropriate? - so zones red through violet are inappropriate - well, that's not stopping anyone from feeling those ways long past they are acceptable to people from the "higher rungs (of the metaphorical religion ladder)" (237). 


  1. this was my favorite chapter in the book, but i have to say that i am a spiral dymanics junkie (the color bit). i know that whole system is very complex and i have spent a lot of time reading all the theorists, but an important part he mentioned that might clear it us is the notion of 'transcend and include.' that means when you move up a stage it builds upon what came before and it continues with it.

    when the UN uses this to assess ethnic conflicts they really do want Red people to evolve to Blue even though the goal would be for them to eventually get to Green and affirm a form of universal human rights. in that way it is clearly better to be a higher level but it is not a typical hierarchy in which the top dominates those below it. one spirial dynamics philosopher calls is a holarchy. a key thing to recognize is that as you move beyond green you switch categorically from either\or thinking (my stage is the best and correct view) to both\add thinking. so a UN planning committee doesn't pretend that Israeli settlers in Gaza can see or hear a Green and above plea for peace, so they seek to offer a healthy way forward within the worldview people are operating in.

    a couple other things to think of is that every child starts at stage one (pre-red), so any congregation with kids has a bunch of colors. how does that impact how you think of spiritual formation? what stories you tell in a sermon?

    here's a webpage with more info on spiral dynamics:

    sorry for a long comment!

  2. I understand what you're saying as "Meet people where they're at" - is that an accurate interpretation?

    That idea is, of course, how we have to approach people in any situation. However, it seems problematic to me to assume that only people who are in "higher colors" would be using this method. A person who is a "red" is just as likely to be attempting to bring a "green" back "down" to their level.

    It just strikes me as problematic that McLaren recognizes that different people are different "colors" but doesn't entertain the idea that the same person can be different colors depending on the situation. It's unclear if McLaren takes that as a possibility. Or is it a "once you go blue, you never go back" theory?

    No worries about the long comment =) Would like to hear your thoughts on my response.

  3. I was just going to say something about Spiral Dynamics, when I read Tripp's comments. My understanding is that we are all evolving, individually and as a people. But we also deal with things on many memes or color levels. It is almost like Maslow's Hierachy, one needs to address one set of needs before moving on to others. For me, understanding the evolutionary aspect of religion and spiritiual development is very helpful. It also help remove judgments. People are where they need to be. But where are we going? Are we ready to jump in and let the Spirit of God lead us into the unknown Oneness?