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THE SECRET MESSAGE OF JESUSUncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything
By Brian D. McLaren
W Publishing GroupCopyright © 2007 Brian D. McLaren
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTroubling Questions about Jesus
Are you still so dull? -Matthew 15:16
What if Jesus of Nazareth was right-more right, and right in different ways, than we have ever realized? What if Jesus had a message that truly could change the world, but we're prone to miss the point of it?
What if we have developed a religion that makes reverent and honoring statements about Jesus but doesn't teach what Jesus taught in the manner he taught it? What if the religion generally associated with Jesus neither expects nor trains its adherents to actually live in the way of Jesus?
What if the core message of Jesus has been unintentionally misunderstood or intentionally distorted? What if many have sincerely valued some aspects of Jesus' message while missing or even suppressing other, more important dimensions? What if many have carried on a religion that faithfully celebrates Jesus in ritual and art, teaches about Jesus in sermons and books, sings about Jesus in songs and hymns, and theorizes about Jesus in seminaries and classrooms ... but somewhere along the way missed rich and radical treasures hidden in the essential message of Jesus?
What if too many of today's religious leaders-among whom I must be counted-are among the last to get the message of Jesus and the first to reduce, oppose, distort, or suppress it, just as they did in Jesus' day?
What if Jesus had actually concealed his deepest message, not trying to make it overt and obvious but intentionally hiding it as a treasure one must seek in order to find? If that's the case, why would Jesus ever do such a thing? How would we find his message if he had indeed hidden it?
What if Jesus' secret message reveals a secret plan? What if he didn't come to start a new religion-but rather came to start a political, social, religious, artistic, economic, intellectual, and spiritual revolution that would give birth to a new world?
What if his secret message had practical implications for such issues as how you live your daily life, how you earn and spend money, how you treat people of other races and religions, and how the nations of the world conduct their foreign policy? What if his message directly or indirectly addressed issues like advertising, environmentalism, terrorism, economics, sexuality, marriage, parenting, the quest for happiness and peace, and racial reconciliation?
Would we want to know what that message is? How much? Would we be willing to look hard, think deeply, and search long in order to find it? Would we be willing to rethink our assumptions?
What if the message of Jesus was good news-not just for Christians but also for Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, New Agers, agnostics, and atheists? And what if the message of Jesus also contained warnings-for Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, New Agers, agnostics, atheists-and for Christians too? What difference could it make in the lives of individuals, in their families and neighborhoods and circles of friends, and in the world at large? Those are the questions we're going to explore in these pages.
For me, these aren't just theoretical questions. I grew up in the church and heard wonderful stories about Jesus that captured my imagination throughout my childhood. Then in my teenage years, after a brief but intense period of doubt, I became intrigued by Jesus in a more mature way, and I began wondering what it means to be an authentic follower of Jesus in my daily life. In college and graduate school, although I went through times of questioning, skepticism, and disillusionment, I retained confidence that Jesus himself was somehow right and real and from God-even if the religions bearing his name seemed to be a very mixed bag and adherents like me often set a disappointing example.
After graduate school, I worked as an English instructor at a large secular university, and I tried to relate what I knew of Jesus to the world of higher education. In the mid-1980s, I left higher education and entered pastoral ministry, where I have spent the last twenty years of my life, serving in a church just outside Washington, D.C. As a pastor and as a human being, I have had one lasting obsession: the fascinating, mysterious, uncontainable, uncontrollable, enigmatic, vigorous, surprising, stunning, dazzling, subtle, honest, genuine, and explosive personality of Jesus.
But through these years, an uncomfortable feeling has showed me that the portrait of Jesus I found in the New Testament didn't fit with the image of Christianity projected by religious institutions, charismatic televangelists, religious spokespeople in the media-and sometimes, my own preaching. Sometimes the discomfort has come when I realize that Jesus' teachings and example don't fit neatly in the categories of my theology. Sometimes the discomfort has risen from the simple, sad fact that even though I identify myself as a Christian, I'm too often a shabby jerk; and as much as I want to change, I stubbornly stay stuck in old patterns, wishing for more transformation than I've experienced so far.
So I've been on a journey, a search. You might call it a journey of doubt, because I've doubted some conventional understandings of Jesus and his message. You might also call it a journey of faith, because my quest emerges from deep conviction that whatever the essential meaning of Jesus' message is, it's true and worth knowing-that even if it overturns some of our conventional assumptions, priorities, values, and practices, a better understanding will be worth the temporary discomfort.
A lot of people say, "It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you're sincere." They're partly right: sincerity is a precious thing, and arguments about who has the correct beliefs have too often led to arrogance, ugly arguments, and even violence. But believing untrue things, however sincerely, can have its own unintended consequences.
For example, try believing that God will be pleased if you fly an airplane into a tall building, that you can get away with embezzling funds, that you have a personal exemption from sexual propriety, or that your race or religion makes you superior to members of other races or religions. You will become someone nobody respects, including (eventually) you.
But seeking to believe what is true-seeking to see things as closely as possible to the way they really are, seeking to be faithful to what is and was and will be-puts you increasingly in touch with reality and helps you become a wise and good person. It can also make life a lot more meaningful, and enjoyable. For example, if you have a huge inheritance in the bank and don't believe it, or if somebody really loves you and you don't believe it, you're missing out on a lot, right? Having truer beliefs-beliefs more aligned with reality-makes all the difference.
In one of my previous books, I said that clarity is sometimes overrated and that intrigue is correspondingly undervalued. But here I want to say-clearly-that it is tragic for anyone, especially anyone affiliated with the religion named after Jesus, not to be clear about what Jesus' message actually was.
Many people don't realize that the Christian religion-in its Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and Pentecostal forms-is the largest, richest, and most powerful religion in the world. If the Christian religion "misunderestimates" the message of Jesus-if it doesn't know or believe the truth about Jesus and his message-the whole world will suffer from Christian ignorance, confusion, or delusion. But if it discovers, understands, believes, and lives Jesus' message-if it becomes increasingly faithful to the reality of what Jesus taught in word and example-then everyone could benefit: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists, everyone.
In an age of global terrorism and rising religious conflict, it's significant to note that all Muslims regard Jesus as a great prophet, that many Hindus are willing to consider Jesus as a legitimate manifestation of the divine, that many Buddhists see Jesus as one of humanity's most enlightened people, and that Jesus himself was a Jew, and (this book asserts) without understanding his Jewishness, one doesn't understand Jesus. A shared reappraisal of Jesus' message could provide a unique space or common ground for urgently needed religious dialogue-and it doesn't seem an exaggeration to say that the future of our planet may depend on such dialogue. This reappraisal of Jesus' message may be the only project capable of saving a number of religions, including Christianity, from a number of threats, from being co-opted by consumerism or nationalism to the rise of potentially violent fundamentalism in their own ranks.
Wouldn't it be interesting if the people who started discovering and believing the hidden message of Jesus were people who aren't even identified as Christians, and wouldn't it be tragic if people like myself, identified as Christians, were unwilling to consider the possibility that they have more to learn (and unlearn) about the message of Jesus?
It might sound audacious of me even to suggest such a thing. But I speak from personal experience: I grew up in the church and spent many years in devout Christian contexts before I ever got more than a tiny glimpse of the secret message of Jesus. Even now, I feel I only see part of it; I feel like a child standing on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon-impressed, breathless, and maybe a little dizzy, but not able to take in the full dimensions of what expands before me. That is why I'm writing this book: not just for your benefit, but for mine as well.
So for all these reasons, I'd like to share my search with you and invite you to be part of it. I don't want to spoil the ending, but I'll let you in on this: the further I go on this search, the more inspired, moved, challenged, shocked, and motivated I become about the secret message of Jesus.
Excerpted from THE SECRET MESSAGE OF JESUS by Brian D. McLaren Copyright © 2007 by Brian D. McLaren. Excerpted by permission.
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