A few months ago I came across the term, "emergent church". This movement seemed to have a lot of good points about the problems in our church today. However, I read some controversial articles about this movement as well. One of the names that came up in my research was Brian McLaren. Most notably I came across an article where Pastor McLaren skips around the issue of calling homosexuality a sin. This bothered me, not for any homophobic reasons, but because it looked like another sign of relevant truth moving from our culture into the church.
On the suggestion of a friend, I picked up one of Pastor McLaren's books to read rather than base my opinions on Internet blogs and articles. The full title of this book is The Secret Message of Jesus - Uncovering the truth that could change everything.
I have to admit that I started reading the book with a bias based on the information that I had already picked up on the Internet. In addition, the title of this book really bothered me. I like to think that God's Word is for everyone and there is no need to uncover any hidden messages within it.
In the introduction, Pastor McLaren explains the audience of his book as follows:
Thoughtful critics will realize that I am aiming for a broad, nonscholarly, and in many cases nonreligious audience and sometimes have to take a path that's not ideal for either the highly knowledgeable or the newly curious.
This purposeful avoidance of "church speak" is apparent throughout the book. Since the audience is nonreligious I suppose this is ok. However, it did cause me to struggle with his wording at times as he seemed to reach for nonreligious wording to explain Christian concepts.
I actually read the book twice. The second time, I more of less just scanned it. However, I am glad I went through it again. I believe my overall impression of this book has changed from the first time I read it.
After my first reading, I felt justified in my original skepticism. I could not determine if Pastor McLaren believed that we are all sinners that need to be saved, or if he was stating that if we try really hard to do the kingdom work taught by Jesus, that we could save ourselves and save the world.
After reviewing the book again for this post, I think I understand what Pastor McLaren is trying to communicate. I believe he is saying that we Christians need to believe that the kingdom of God is here now and start living accordingly. If we do this, we can then impact our world. If this is what Pastor McLaren is trying to express, I think there is merit to his point.
We Christians often sit in our suburban homes, engrossing ourselves in our world through cable TV. We shake our heads in disgust at the nightly news and wonder when Jesus is going to return to pass final judgment on all these sinners in the world. What we should be doing is reaching out to our lost world and showing them the love we have for them through Christ. We should be reaching out to them so that they can hear and believe and enter the kingdom.
The key point that is not clear in this book, is that we are all sinners. We're all "bad" and need the blood of Jesus to be reconciled to God. Pastor McLaren softens the kingdom message up so much that a non-Christian can read this book and think they can be part of the kingdom by just changing their attitude and being better. The problem is that none of us can just "be better" on our own.
The book does present the Gospel but in a way that was not as clear to me as I would like. A summary of the Gospel as explained in the book's own terminology is as follows:
- Hear from the heart and think deeply about what you hear - profound rethinking which he calls repentance. (Ok - repentance I understand. However, I'm not sure just deep thinking about something is really repentance).
- Believing in God (He never says believing that Christ is the Son of God who died for our sins and rose again).
- Stay open to receive everything you need to live in the kingdom of God - everything including, forgiveness, acceptance, love, hope, empowerment, strength, encouragement, perseverance, ...(I think this is supposed to mean receiving the Holy Spirit).
- Go public with your repentance, faith and receptivity (this one was clear - baptism).
- Learn to follow Jesus everyday for the rest of your life (also pretty clear - discipleship).
I think I would have been more comfortable with this Gospel message if the first two points, repentance and believing, had been more direct.
Overall, I think this book is a worthwhile read if you are already a Christian as it is a good reminder to live for the kingdom and believe we can impact our world today through Christ. It concerns me that it is too vague for a non-Christian to get the whole message. Then again, maybe I'm too religious to understand all of the nonreligious terminology.