Tuesday, March 08, 2011


As someone largely unfamiliar with the writings of Brian McLaren I wasn't sure what to expect when I received a pre-press copy of his yet-to-be-released book, Naked Spirituality, in the mail for review.

Being a proud member of theOoze.com Top 20 Viral Bloggers set, I have been tasked with reading this book in advance of it's publication and providing an honest review of the book here on my blog.

Before I begin the review I need to make a few disclaimers. The first being that I do not consider myself an "Emerging" or an "Emergent" Christian. Even though guys like Jim Belcher (Deep Church) and others consider me among those in that camp, I most vocally do not belong to that brand of faith. Of course, I'm not against them either and I do publish articles on webzines (like theOoze.com and Next-Wave Magazine) that are widely recognized as such, and I do consider people like Spencer Burke not only my friends but my brothers in Christ.

But enough about me, let's talk about Brian D. McLaren's newest book, shall we?

As I've already pointed out, I'm not familiar with McLaren's books so this was my first foray into his writing. Surprisingly, I found myself deeply moved by his insight and challenged by his ideas. Frankly, the Preface and the Introduction alone were better than most books I've read in the last few years, and that's the truth.

In the preface, McLaren reminds us of St. Francis of Assisi's many naked moments and uses these to illustrate our calling to throw off the adornments of this world and to embrace the glorious skin of our primary selves before all men, and before God.

If at first this seems like an arbitrary example of nakedness as a metaphor for spiritual honesty, McLaren goes on to remind us of Isaiah the prophet's three year sermon in the nude (Is 20:3). Eventually he points out that our Lord Jesus called us to give away our clothing if someone takes us to court to sue us for our overcoat (Mt 5:38-41), implying that we should call attention to their greed by exposing ourselves in order to appease their demands.

Of course, the author isn't calling us to embrace a literal nakedness here, (thankfully), but a spiritual nakedness that reflects the actual vulnerability of our souls before God and men.

Yes, Jesus was stripped totally naked on the cross. His clothing was literally stripped off of him and divided among the Roman soldiers at his crucifixion.

As McLaren says, "Naked we came from the womb, Job sid, and naked we will shall depart this life, but in between, we clothe ourselves in a thousand fascinating ways."

The book is about how we hide ourselves in outward garments and how we cover our spiritual sensitivies in clothing both real and figurative. It's a book about how we are spiritual beings who were created to be naked and unashamed and how to recover our spiritual identity by stripping away the layers of designer labels, religious robes, and fashion consciousness to reveal the image of God in ourselves.

After sharing a deeply personal testimony of an early encounter with the Holy Spirit, McLaren sets up a framework for his book, allowing readers to take a voyeuristic glimpse at what will be revealed in the pages to come.

Essentially, McLaren sets up twelve practices arranged in four stages to help readers navigate the process of being naked before God. Without spelling everything out here, the book covers Simplicity, Complexity, Perplexity and Harmony as seasons of spiritual growth. Within each of these four season, the author places three simple words to meditate on as we journey through our lives.

For me, this is where the book begins to lose me. I wasn't looking for a "How to" book as much as an exploration of concepts and ideas that might help me see myself, and my own need for spiritual nakedness, in a new light. The practical part, as helpful as it may be, didn't appeal to me. Perhaps because I tend to shy away from formulas and programs as a general rule, the step-by-step section of the book was only mildly interesting, although there were several helpful insights buried within this section to keep me reading along.

If you're like me, I'd recommend reading the programmatic sections more as suggestions and take from them what you find helpful without feeling the need to incorporate all of them into your daily routine. And to be fair, I suspect that this is partly what McLaren is hoping for anyway. He does speak of there being exceptions even to our natural seasons (where we experience unusually warm winter days, or surprisingly cold summer nights) and this I think is his concession that one size may not fit all. So, don't let any suggestion of self-help rhetoric to keep you from picking this one up. The chapters are not contingent upon one another and anyone who longs to learn more about spiritual vulnerability and living naked before God and others will find plenty to nourish their souls within these pages.

McLaren, it must be said, is a masterful and talented writer. His images are effective. His language is evocative and his insights are profound. This book bears witness to why he is hailed as one of America's 25 most influential evangelicals and I expect that many followers of Jesus will find themselves lost in these pages and discover themselves beneath the covers where they have hidden themselves away for too long.

Still, some of what is communicated here feels more than a little like an update to Richard Foster's classic Celebration of Discipline but without the nasty "discipline" word (for those who recoil at the sound). Yet, if McLaren's clout can inspire a new generation of Christ-followers to entertain the old school notions of simplicity, silence, meditation, fasting, service and prayer, then I suspect even the most anti-emergent pastors could only whisper a reluctant "halleluiah" in response.


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