My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I tend to like Brian McLaren books and this one had potential. Unfortunately, I think it ultimately falls short of its goal, which is to educate us to an alternative way of acting with and within the world, in a God-centered fashion according to the principles of Jesus — his radical teachings being given as framework from which to start from.
McLaren does an interesting comparison between the conventional church and the emerging church early on. In asking why Jesus was important, he writes of the conventional view:
“Jesus came to solve the problem of ‘original sin,’ meaning that he helps qualified individuals not to be sent to hell for their sin or imperfection. In a sense, Jesus saves these people from God, or more specifically, from the righteous wrath of God, which sinful human beings deserve because they have not perfectly fulfilled God’s just expectations, expressed in God’s moral laws.”
He contrasts this with the emerging view:
“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 liberation from the fear of death is “a free gift they receive as an expression of God’s grace and love.”
Again, a conventional view contrast:
“The conventional view is very familiar to many of us; it is frequently defined as ‘orthodoxy’ and any departure from it as ‘heresy.’ … the purpose of Jesus was to provide a way for at least a few individuals to escape the eternal conscious torment of everlasting damnation.”
Wow. I’ve read McLaren before, so I know his views on the subject, but his view of the emerging church still resonates with me: “God’s concern is more holistic or integral, seeing individual and society, soul and body, life and afterlife, humanity and the rest of creation as being inseparably related…. God cares about ALL [my emphasis] people.”
McLaren writes that we in the world are trapped in a “suicide machine” devised by and of nearly everything in the world, even seeming polar opposites, such as liberals/conservatives, Democrats/Republicans, etc. He gives an interesting example of how one can compare and contrast the right’s obsession with abortion to the left’s obsession with global warming, in terms of how such things are sought, presented, dealt with, etc. That was an interesting component of the book.
Where the book fails me, though, is in its solutions to the problems outlined. McLaren asks us to believe 1) we live in a societal system or machine; 2) the system goes suicidal when driven by a destructive framing; 3) Jesus saw these dynamics at work in his day and proposed in word and deed a new alternative; and 4) Jesus’ creative and transforming framing story invited people to change the world by disbelieving old framing stories and believing a new one.
OK. I get the part about destructive framings. We’re all duped, manipulated, serving the wrong overseers, etc. I get it. What I don’t get are McLaren’s solutions. He doesn’t seem to offer any, at least anything tangible. He writes of a vague personal action, followed by a vague community action, followed by a vague public action, followed by a vague global action. Apparently, if we all act in a manner Jesus taught us to act, big things will change in a big way. Forgive my cynicism, but that sort of hippie idealism isn’t “new” or emerging — it’s unrealistic and unlikely. The world just isn’t going to change simply because some people start donating more of their time and money to worthy causes. Yin and yang. For every good, there is evil. I don’t see a way out. Of course, as an emerging Christian author, McLaren argues for heaven on earth, here and now, as opposed to some obscure future afterlife. That always sounds good to me, but how it’s actually accomplished is always a little vague for me at the same time. If we’re to experience heaven now, here on earth, what happens to our souls — assuming they exist — when we die? I’ve never had that adequately explained to me by an emerging Christian author, even Rob Bell.
So, pretty decent book, but mid-level material. Not overly thought provoking. Not a huge call to action, in my mind. Good read, stuff to contemplate, maybe some material that’s quite valid, but overall, perhaps a futile effort, and that’s sad.