We begin today our official look at Brian McLaren’s new book, Everything Must Change.
My promise: I will be fair to what Brian says; I will focus on what he focuses on; I will tell you what I like and what I don’t like; I will not try to find random theological pecadillos and then excoriate him for his theology (as one review I saw recently did). To be fair to a book is to focus on what it focuses on and to see if it is sustained by the argument and evidence and to see if its conclusions are sound and the most probable.
The questions of this book are two-fold:
(1) What are the world’s biggest problems?
(2) What does Jesus — message, ministry, teachings, acts, etc — say to those problems?
The book assumes his Secret Message of Jesus.
Now a question I think we have to ask: Did Jesus address the Roman Empire’s biggest questions? Did he address the world’s biggest problems? Did he address Israel’s biggest problems? Did he address the Galilee’s biggest problems?
Now another: Does Jesus provide for us a way to address the world’s biggest problems?
Here is a major theme in this book and in Brian’s theology: “They [those who have affirmed his books and talks] share my belief that the versions of Christianity we inherited are largely flattened, watered down, tame … offering us a ticket to heaven after death, but not challenging us to address the issues that threaten life on earth” (3). This theme — a gospel of going to heaven vs. a gospel that is about the here and now with an occasional mention of the age to come — is the foil to the whole book. The gospel as he experiences it being preached throughout the world is the problem. What is needed is a vision of the gospel that not only gets us to heaven but one that helps in the redemption of this world.
His claim: “Jesus’ message is not actually about escaping this troubled world for heaven’s blissful shores, as is popularly assumed, but instead is about God’s will being done on this troubled earth as it is in heaven” (4).
Chps 2-4 tell the narrative of how Brian became convinced that we have to move from many of our intramural Christian-ese questions to ask bigger questions in light of Jesus’ mission and message. It is a story about Claude Nikondeha and Brian’s and his daughter’s trip to Burundi, his meeting there with church leaders, the struggles they were having, etc., and how they helped him to see that the gospel is bigger than what he was taught, bigger than what the evangelical world was teaching, etc.. Instead of facing racism, genocide, the poor and minority oppression, exploitation of the environment, and unjust war/wars, the church too often is preoccupied with theological disputes, moral practices, worship styles, etc..
In Burundi a woman, Justine, after hearing the discussion, said, “Everything must change.” That is, if Jesus’ message of the kingdom is true, everything must change.
The gospel of being born again, of getting saved to go to heaven, makes us “captive to a colossal distortion” (29).
Brian is striving for and seeking to articulate a gospel that is vibrant, holistic, integral, balanced — “one that offers good news for both the living and dying, that speaks of God’s grace at work both in this life and the life to come, that speaks both to individuals and to societies and to the planet as a whole” (34).
Here is the problem modernity created: “excessive confidence” (36). I must say I was surprised by these terms, but he explains himself. Confidence we are right, our power can be used for what is right, etc.. In addition, we are in a postmodern world, a world where these metanarratives of excessive confidence are no longer gaining confidence, where our framing stories are now under suspicion.