When Brian McLaren began offering an alternative vision of Christian faith and life in books such as A New Kind of Christian and A Generous Orthodoxy, he ignited a firestorm of praise and condemnation that continues to spread across the religious landscape. To some religious conservatives, McLaren is a dangerous rebel without a doctrinally-correct cause. Some fundamentalist websites have even claimed he's in league with the devil and have consigned him to flames.
To others though, Brian is a fresh voice, a welcome antidote to the staleness, superficiality, and negativity of the religious status quo. A wide array of people from Evangelical, Catholic, and Mainline Protestant backgrounds claim that through his books they have begun to rediscover the faith they'd lost or rejected. And around the world, many readers say that he has helped them find-for the first time in their lives-a faith that makes sense and rings true. For many, he articulates the promise of what is being called "emerging Christianity."
In The Secret Message of Jesus you'll find what's at the center of Brian's critique of conventional Christianity, and what's at the heart of his expanding vision. In the process, you'll meet a Jesus who may be altogether new to you, a Jesus who is…
- Not the crusading conqueror of religious broadcasting;
- Not the religious mascot of partisan religion;
- Not heaven's ticket-checker, whose words have been commandeered by the church to include and exclude, judge and stigmatize, pacify and domesticate.
McLaren invites you to discover afresh the transforming message of Jesus-an open invitation to radical change, an enlightening revelation that exposes sham and ignites hope, an epic story that is good news for everyone, whatever their gender, race, class, politics, or religion.
"Pastor and best-selling author McLaren revisits the gospel material from a fresh-and at times radical-perspective . . . He does an excellent job of capturing Jesus' quiet, revolutionary style."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Here McLaren shares his own ferocious journey in pondering the teachings and actions of Jesus. It is McLaren's lack of salesmanship or agenda that creates a refreshing picture of the man from Galilee who changed history."
Donald Miller, Author of Blue Like Jazz
"In this critical book, Brian challenges us to ask what it would mean to truly live the message of Jesus today, and thus to risk turning everything upside down."
Jim Wallis, Author of God's Politics and editor of Sojourners
"Compelling, crucial and liberating: a book for those who seek to experience the blessed heat of Christianity at its source."
Anne Rice, Author of Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt
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About the Author
Brian D. McLaren (MA, University of Maryland) is an author, speaker, activist and public theologian. After teaching college English, Brian pastored Cedar Ridge Community Church in the Baltimore-Washington, DC area. Brain has been active in networking and mentoring church planters and pastors for over 20 years. He is a popular conference speaker and a frequent guest lecturer for denominational and ecumenical leadership gatherings in the US and internationally.
Read an Excerpt
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.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART 1 Excavation: Digging Beneath the Surface to Uncover Jesus' Message 1. Troubling Questions about Jesus....................3
2. The Political Message of Jesus....................9
3. The Jewish Message of Jesus....................19
4. The Revolutionary Message of Jesus....................26
5. The Hidden Message of Jesus....................35
PART 2 Engagement: Grappling with the Meaning of Jesus' Message 6. The Medium of the Message....................43
7. The Demonstration of the Message....................50
8. The Scandal of the Message....................61
9. You Can't Keep a Secret....................72
10. Secret Agents of the Secret Kingdom....................81
11. The Open Secret....................90
12. Hiding the Message in New Places....................96
13. Getting It, Getting In....................104
PART 3 Imagination: Exploring How Jesus' Secret Message Could Change Everything 14. Kingdom Manifesto....................117
15. Kingdom Ethics....................129
16. The Language of the Kingdom....................138
17. The Peaceable Kingdom....................149
18. The Borders of the Kingdom....................162
19. The Future of the Kingdom....................171
20. The Harvest of the Kingdom....................183
21. Seeing the Kingdom....................196
Appendix 1: Why Didn't We Get It Sooner?....................209
Appendix 2: Plotting Goodness....................219
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Author McLaren offers a non-traditional look at Jesus' message -- one which might lead to being able to live life more abundantly and radically change the world. While I disagree with some of the concepts that McLaren present from his contextual understanding of Greek, Hebrew and English, they are not necessarily 'improperly uses Greek, Hebrew, and English meanings which cause the misinterpretation of many words' as the previous commentator states. They are, however, a fresh and rethinking of such words using a more historically accurate context in which they where originally written. The Publishers Week and Library Journal's reviews offer a more accurate description of this book than ¿Misleading¿ does. Mainstream Christendom certainly has been in long need of a fresh start or renewal. Worth the read and worth considering -- even if you reject the concepts present in whole or in part.
Sadly, this book portrays the wrong perception of what a Christian should be and what Jesus' message really was. The author deliberately takes stories and events out of context to prove his perception. McLaren improperly uses Greek, Hebrew, and English meanings which cause the misinterpretation of many words, like repentance, and stories. There are books with the correct interpretation that tell the whole story and use the correct definitons. This book is not worthy of consideration due to its many false and untrue teachings. In his look for a hidden message, McLaren has totally missed it.
A bit dry and not very memorable, had a good message.
One of two things has happened: 1. Brian McLaren has toned down the controversial aspects of his writing. 2. I¿ve grown more comfortable with the controversy.Maybe it¿s a mixture of both. I started reading McLaren¿s New Kind of Christian books and was challenged, outraged, and enlightened. Now that he¿s transplanted his theology from the world of fiction into the land of teaching he¿s lost a bit of his zip.This book is full of good material about Jesus and his agenda. McLaren situates Jesus in his culture, painting him as a Jewish revolutionary. If you¿re new to this way of understanding Jesus, McLaren¿s book serves as a quick introduction to some of the major ideas.If, on the other hand, you¿ve read N. T. Wright, Walter Brueggemann, and Dallas Willard, you¿ll find nothing new here: just a popularizing of their ideas.[One last thought: does the socially-conscious Protestant church really need to venerate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the way the Roman church venerates Mary?]
We tried using this book as a guide for our Home Community. It didn't work. To many lists and run on sentences. We only got halfway through but up to that point I hadn't heard anything that seemed to shocking or whatever. (I sound skeptical don't I?!)
Very thought provoking. This book isn't written to direct or convert, but to encourage thoughtful consideration of our concept of Jesus' message.
McLaren prefers in many parts of his book to set up this dichotomy: "traditional" Christians (who prefer traditional doctrine and ethics) and "New" Christians (who are engaged in conversations about new ways of understanding the bible, Jesus, and are concerned with social justice).Like arguments against any straw man, I think McLaren makes some good points and some bad ones. I've read some of his articles and blog posts, and after reading this book, I realized the struggle I have with reading McLaren: I don't know what Christians he is talking about. Certainly, each Christian has a little bit of a legalist in them, each is guilty of not welcoming with love all those who are in need of Christ. There are some who take traditional doctrine to un-Christian and unbiblical ends. Christians are always seduced by non-engagement with the culture (particularly when the culture generally doesn't invite us to engage). Yet, when I read McLaren's works, I don't get the feeling that he has much grace toward Christians (at least, Anglo-American Christians, toward whom his critique is targeted) and that he is reacting against conservative, legalistic, fundamentalist Christian tendencies rather than soberly responding to them. As a result, what comes across is a need to re-invent Christian doctrine to facilitate the kind of Christian he wants to see. That is the goal of this book.So what does the book say? Well, first of all, McLaren posits that we have been missing the real message of the Gospel for 2,000 years (and, guess what?, a guy in Baltimore just figured it out!). He states that the real message of the Gospel is that of the Kingdom. He defines the kingdom as: ...a life that is full and overflowing, a higher life that is centered in an interactive relationship with God and with Jesus. Let's render it simply 'an extraordinary life to the full centered in a relationship with God.' (By the way, I don't expect you to be satisfied with this as a full definition of the kingdom of God. I'm not satisfied with it myself. But it's one angle, one dimension, one facet.(p. 37)This is the closest thing to a thesis statement that one is going to find in the book. Well, at least its part of his thesis: if Jesus's secret message is the kingdom of God, then this is his definition of the kingdom. Unfortunately, I don't know how to proceed with his work when his very definition of the thing he is talking about is shoddy.McLaren goes on to explain that we are secret agents of this kingdom. He says that Christians can imagine "seeing everyone as potential agents of the kingdom". Once again, McLaren doesn't clearly define his terms for me. As such, this statement could be taken to mean one of two things:1) that Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Ba'Hai, and other religions are just as legitimate claims to salvation as Christianity and that those who follow these religions are working toward building the kingdom of God.2) that everyone in the world is capable of responding to the call of Christ, repenting, and becoming faithful followers of Jesus.I'd like to think that McLaren believes in option #2. It would seem, however, that he's speaking more to option #1.He then goes on to describe how Christianity is a religion against state violence (chapter 17 "The Peaceable Kingdom"). I think he does a good job of synthesizing some of the work of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas here. However, one gets the impression from his sweeping view of Church history that Christianity had nothing to contribute but violence and death from the time of Constantine until modern times (p. 153-154). Surely, the Church contributed more to art, culture, music, social cohesion, etc., and didn't just go around hacking up non-Christians through the Crusades? Of course, the Crusades were horrible and a sin we should repent of and never commit again. However, it isn't our only history.I was loving Chapter 18 ("The Borders of the Kingdom"). McLaren's discussion is of how naive inclusiveness
Good book. Unfortunate title. I think you could plant churches with this book.
Brian has set the faith community on a journey that will have far and long reaching effect on a body who is open to real growth and maturity. I count his writings as necessary as Richard Rohr and Carl McColeman. Awesome,
McLaren presents this discussion out of concern for the current generation of Americans and other Westerners who have dismissed the church and standard Christianity as out of touch, irrelevant and perverted. He discovers that a large percentage of the current population actually are very open to Jesus, even have a quite positive attitude toward Jesus, but not the Christianity as an established religious system. As McLaren takes a look at teaching of Jesus in the Gospels, he explores the original contexts of the life and times of Jesus. Outlining the social and political setting, he takes a look at Jesus' teachings and finds more of them make sense without the cultural and philosophical blinders that have accrued in the western culture we have inherited. McLaren makes sense of the radical, revolutionary message of Jesus, and portrays the dangerous role of his message of a new Rule of God that challenged the established Divine Empire of Rome with its Emperor Cult. He lays bare the Good News in this message and the radical possibilities that offers to us today.
This book truly changed my outlook, as well as my fundamental beliefs and understanding. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to explore the true message of Christ.
Now that I have your attention. Even if there is some wheat in all this chaff, wading through the confusion is not worth it.
Those of us who have been around, or those who study history, will recognize McLaren's approach. There was a movement in the 19th and early 20th century that tried to recapture the "historical Jesus". In order to do that, all manner of mental, linguistic, literary, and theological gymnastics were applied to the reading of the Gospels. The Apostle Paul was largely dismissed (or wildly reinterpreted) and "new" meaning was found in the ancient story of Jesus. The practitioners of these methods came largely from a modernist and rational philosophical point of view and they told you what they did and how they reached their conclusions. What came out of that exercise was a Jesus who was a moralistic, revolutionary, compassionate, iconoclastic, reformer. Not the divine, incarnate Son of God, second Person of the Trinity. If that's not an issue, try McLaren.
McLaren reaches the same (or similar) distination by taking a psot-modern, deconstructionist route. With some assembly required, he constructs a new vision of Jesus' teaching that is winsome and beguilling if you have even a shred of sympathy and human decency. It doesn't so much make sense as feel good. His frequent use of "What if ..." and "Imagine ..." are hints that you have to abandon considerable common sense in order to adopt his reasoning. This is required, according to McLaren, because we can't possible appreciate Jesus day, language, politics, religion, economics, historical setting, yaddah, yaddah. This walk on the thoelogical "wild side" may leave one lost and disoriented, but take heart, McLaren will tell you what to think starting on about page 138 when he informs us about what Jesus would tell us if he were here today.
Mclaren is a voice of theological liberalism, cloaked in post-modern garb. He is appealing to the disaffected western, affluent, educated, idealistic but mostly ambivolent or apathetic "buster" to Gen-Y -something age group. His approach is basically a conspiracy theory against chrisendom (especially current evangelicalism), and he has gained a hearing. Many of his conclusions are note worthy, but his method of reaching them is destructive, filled with speculation, and utterly self-serving.
My modest proficiencies at biblical Greek and Hebrew tell me that McLaren is not to be trusted in the big things because he has been corrupt in the little things. His vulgar paraphase of Matthew 7 (pg. 127) is a synthesis of his own musings and a thorough going product of eisegesis at it's worst.
I can't recommend this book to anyone as it plays on sympathies and sensibilities in a very manipulative way. It is, however, a glimpe into the hazy thinking of the emergent church movement. In that regard, it is well-written and organized. The content is suspect. It made my brain hurt. A lot. Packer's "Knowing God" is a much better treatment of Jesus message - with no secrets.
I heard about this book and had to read it, a new and refreshing view on Jesus' teachings.