I didn’t know Brian McLaren, in Everything Must Change, would answer the question that I have been asking of his writings for three years. Here is the question: If Kingdom was Jesus’ answer, what was the question being asked? Or, if kingdom is the solution, what was the problem? Brian’s answering of this question, in chp 10, is worth the price of the book for I think this chp brings exceptional clarity to McLaren’s “theology of action.”
I’ll ask it again because I’m interested in what you think: If Jesus’ solution is “kingdom of God” what was the problem he was facing? (To be sure, you have to know what “kingdom of God” means and that means you’ve got to dig around in the Gospels and the Bible elsewhere, but in light of how you understand kingdom what was the problem Jesus was staring at?)
In chp 10 McLaren compares the “conventional” and the “emerging” view. Four questions:
1. What is the story we find ourselves in?
Conventional: creation as perfect, fall, determination by God to destroy creation and humans unless they are exempted.
Emerging: creation as good, humans rebel and fill earth — individually and as groups — with evil and injustice, God wants to save humanity but humans are “like sheep without a shepherd” and left to themselves they will “spiral downward in sickness and evil” (80).
2. What questions did Jesus come to answer?
Conventional: How can individuals be saved from eternal punishment?” and “How can God help individuals to be happy until then?”
Emerging: What must be done about the mess we’re in? “Mess” means general human condition and Roman conditions from which Israel wants liberation.
3. How did Jesus respond to the crisis?
Conventional: If you want to be among those who escape eternal punishment, you must repent from your individual sins and believe that my Father punished me on the cross so he won’t have to punish you in hell. This is the good news. (Basic quotation from p. 81)
Emerging: I have been sent with good news — God loves humanity, “even in its lostness and sin.” God invites us to turn and follow a new way. “Trust me and become my disciple, and you will be transformed, and you will participate in the transformation of the world, which is possible, beginning right now” (81).
4. Why is Jesus important?
Conventional: Jesus solves problem of original sin (so they won’t go to hell). “In a sense, Jesus saves these people from God … from the righteous wrath of God which sinful humans deserve…” (81). It’s a gift; personal relationship with God; happier life on earth and more rewards in heaven.
Emerging: Jesus came “to save the earth and all it contains from its ongoing destruction because of human evil. Through his life and teaching, through his suffering, death, and resurrection, he inserted into human history a seed of grace, truth, and hope that can never be defeated. This seed will, against all opposition and odds, prevail over the evil and injustice of humanity and lead to the world’s ongoing transformation into the world God dreams of” (81-2). This is all a “free gift they receive as an expression of God’s grace and love.”
The conventional view leads to these problems:
1. It is mostly a legal solution to a capital infraction against God.
2. Little hope for history (or the future).
3. It is dualistic: spirit vs. body.
4. God offers his blessings only to the elect “and little or nothing (except condemnation) to everyone else” (84).
5. God must destroy the world.
6. The world will get worse and worse until the end.
“I believe our conventional view has accidentally put Jesus in the very framing story Jesus originally sought to subvert” (85).
He then resituates Jesus into the Roman story where the cross was the sign of domination and Jesus used it as the ironical response of power. He then (in chp 11) situates Jesus in Jewish framing stories: Zealots (violence), Pharisees (purity, obedience), Herodians and Sadducees (compromise with Rome), Essenes (withdrawal).
Jesus according to McLaren: “Don’t let your lives be framed by the narratives and counternarratives of the Roman empire … but situate yourselves in another story … the good news that God is king and we can live in relation to God and God’s love rather than Caesar and Caesar’s power” (93).