The Story we Find Ourselves in (by Brian McLaren)

It's less than a couple of weeks since I finished Brian McLaren's excellent book 'A New Kind of Christian'. I had put off reading it for a while despite recommendations, but in the event enjoyed it so very much that I was pleased to find that its sequel was on our shelves just waiting for me to pick it up...

Despite being the second in a trilogy, 'The story we find ourselves in' could easily stand alone. As in the first book, McLaren look at being a Christian in the post-modern world, although he does not explain what he means by post-modernism; anyone wanting to understand that would do well to read the first book too. Instead, this book looks from from the perspective of PhD scientists working in the galapagos, some of whom are atheists.

Neo, the lively Jamaican high-school teacher is on a world tour sabbatical, and stops to take on a temporary job as a tour guide. He finds himself introducing staff and visitors to the God who created such amazing biodiversity, chatting about his relationship with Jesus wherever he goes. He develops quite a special friendship with a middle-aged woman called Kerry who is rather against Christian things, but very open to discussion and questions. Much of the book consists of her dialogue with Neo, and the questions she asks.

I was particularly interested in some fascinating discussions about evolution from a Christian perspective, and Neo's re-telling of the whole 'story' from creation through crisis to the final consummation still awaiting us.  The fictional setting of the book makes it possible to agree with a great deal of what's said, while perhaps being unsure about other parts, and I felt that the whole book was extremely thought-provoking.

While the first book felt like fiction with a strong message, this one, despite the same style, comes across more as non-fiction than fiction. There's a story - Kerry becomes sick and has to return to the US, where she meets Dan, the pastor from the first book, and his wife. Eventually Neo joins them. It makes the settings varied and provides a background for the discussions in a way that I thought was cleverly planned and very well-written.

If I were thinking of it as fiction, I'd have to admit that the characters are not particularly well-developed; I enjoyed their many discussions but I didn't feel that I got to know any of them properly; I suspect that Dan and Neo between them reflect different aspects of the author's personality, and Kerry (and other questioners) are somewhat generalised. I didn't feel any emotional attachment to anyone, but as I wasn't thinking of it as fiction, it didn't really matter.

I enjoyed this book very much indeed, and would recommend it highly to anyone, Christian or otherwise, who is willing to engage in new ideas with an open mind. Even if you disagree with every word, it still helps to explain an increasingly common perspective of post-modern believers in the 21st century.

Published in 2003, this is still in print in paperback on both sides of the Atlantic, and also available in Kindle form, although not much less expensive.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 15th December 2012

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