I've read about three reviews of this book and all of them mentioned that McLaren was spouting Marxist liberation theology. I don't agree. He is just taking a more liberal (Protestant) view but I didn't see any Marxism doctrine or call to physical revolutions in the book. What McLaren wants is change. But the problem he refuses to contend with in all of his books IMO is HOW people change. He thinks they will simply change when they understand and are more educated and treated well. But the liberal Protestants and surprisingly, also the Christian Right have been trying to change what people do for decades. And what has it produced? Not what both groups have promised us. So how do people change? Through the transformation of a new birth through Jesus Christ. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do the social gospel too. But the foundation MUST be what happened at the cross – both the historical event itself as well as the spiritual event. Saying these things, let’s proceed to find out how McLaren analyzes the current world situation. His analysis is interesting and good in many places. But his solution is vague and IMO unworkable because it’s basically based on people being good and doing the right thing.
One of the main themes throughout the book is found on p. 33,
After noting that more and more young Christians are dropping out of church he tells why,
“it [the church] has specialized in dealing with ‘spiritual needs’ to the exclusion of physical and social needs.”
McLaren was visiting Rwanda and met a lady named Justine. Justine made the statement that revolutionized McLaren's thinking. She said, "If Jesus' message of the kingdom of God is true, then everything must change." And this is how the book got its title. By this she meant we cannot take Jesus' message and patch it onto existing ways of doing things. The background of this statement by Justine was the fact that Rwandan churches were teaching salvation but not how tribes should love each other and get along.
And here is what happened when McLaren was in South Africa confronting the AIDs crisis. Someone said to him, "You know your problem? You Pentecostals and you evangelical are specialized. You specialized in healing, in getting people born again, in creating financially successful churches -- but you need to go beyond that. It's time to get a better message - something bigger than just those things. If you stop there all your preaching is nonsense."
Well, what did he mean? He went on to explain that the people needed to learn practical things too that relate to their daily lives. In reading what the young man said, I see that the healing evangelists once again don’t explain things well. The young African said that the preachers are telling the people they will pray for them and then they will be healed of AIDS. So the people don’t take their medications and die. This is what I call Stupid Word of Faith teaching as opposed to what I’ve presented on this blog previously and I call a New Kind of Faith Teacher (and Teaching).
On. P. 30, McLaren does what Street Saints is all about. He tells of a Pentecostal pastor in the Dominican Republic who develops a health program. And one of his colleagues reaches out to glue-sniffing street kids, installing in the church basement so the kids can get clean. McLaren is again 50 years behind. I don’t know many churches that are not doing this kind of thing either in their communities and/or through good mission organizations that are preaching and doing both word and deed.
McLaren is what I consider to be the emergent’s philosopher-at-large and on pages 35-39 he shows this by launching into a very good discussion of where we’ve been in Cartesian philosophy models and where we need to go. I also discussed this a while back in my posts on the postmodernist philosophers like Derrida and Foucault as shown against the Rationalists like Descartes. McLaren makes an interesting distinction between postmodern and postcolonial. He goes into how Cartesianism made the First world powers of Europe and then North America overconfident. And what did that do to the colonized Third World?
He answers this by expanding in the remaining pages about the suicide machine.
I do have to give kudos to McLaren for understanding that the political liberal method of throwing money at the poor isn’t working. He talks about this on p. 50 and suggests we need to find a better model. I felt he was vague as how to do this other than getting everyone to do the right thing – i.e. be better with resources and the environment, don’t be greedy, try to be more loving and understanding, and work for justice and more equity for the poor. He avoids communistic thinking by realizing that there won’t be true economic equality, but strives to get us to be MORE equitable.
Again, he gleans from the four areas of the suicide machine (above) what he calls threre interlocking systems. And if these systems don’t interlock correctly the balance of nature and society is thrown off. The three systems are:
1. Prosperity Dysfunction-seen in the environment disaster
2. Equity Dysfunction-seen in the huge disparity between the CEO class and the underclass
3. Security Dysfunction-Seen as violence to be the way to keep the status quo
He next presents the emergents’ view as opposed to what he calls the conventional view. Again, at times I think he is raising up straw men that seldom exist anymore, at least in the west. I will summarize the views he presents. This is contained on pages 78-80.
Question #1-What is the story we find ourselves in?
Conventional View-God created the world as perfect but then Adam and Eve sinned, so God has determined that the entire universe must eventually be destroyed except for those specifically exempted (by this I gather he means born-again Christians in the Calvinistic view. From the books I’ve read by him, McLaren always seems to believe every evangelical is ultra-Calvinistic).
Emergent View-God created the world as good but human beings rebelled. God wants to save humanity and heal it from its sickness, but it needs a shepherd to guide them.
Question #2-What questions did Jesus come to answer?
Conventional View-Since everyone is doomed to hell, Jesus seeks to answer how individuals can avoid this and how can God help individuals be successful and happy until then?
Emergent View-“Since the human race is in such desperate trouble, Jesus seeks to answer the question, What can be done about the mess we’re in? “ How can we be liberated in all areas of our lives? Jesus specifically came to answer how to be liberated politically since that was the question asked of him by 1st century peoples under the Roman Empire.
Question #3-How did Jesus respond to the crisis?
Conventional View-“You must repent of your sins and believe that my Father punished me on the cross so he won’t have to punish you in hell.”
Emergent View-“Jesus says in essence, ‘I have been sent by God with this good news—that God loves humanity, even in its lostness and sin. God graciously invites everyone and anyone to turn from his or her current path and follow a new way. Trust me and be my disciple and you will be transformed, and you will participate in the transformation of the world, which is possible, beginning right now.’ This is the good news.”
I want to make a comment here. This last Emergent View is basically the same doctrine I heard over and over growing up in my liberal Protestant church, It is NOT evangelical (or completely Biblical IMO).
Question #4-Why is Jesus Important. What is his Purpose?
Conventional View-Jesus came to solve the problem of original sin, meaning he helps qualified individuals not to be sent to hell for their sin or imperfection.”
Emergent View-“Jesus came to be the Savior of the world, meaning he 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….All who find in Jesus God’s hope and truth discover the privilege of participating in his ongoing work of personal and global transformation and liberation from evil and injustice.”
On pages 122-123 he makes a case for the gospel (good news) being a political word in Roman culture, not especially a religious one. Therefore, the case then can be made that the followers of Jesus heard and understood this as a more political term of liberation instead of a more personal one of spirit and soul salvation. So, good news to the first century Jew would be one of peace—politically. This section might be what some reviewers are concerned about a touching on political liberation theology.
He next goes into what he calls the new global love economy. This is what Christians should be doing—managing our resources better so the earth won’t be depleted and there is enough for everybody. Involved in this is God’s ecosystem as He designed it. McLaren says we either will restore it or destroy it through empire building. Also, along these lines he quotes Wendell Berry,
“…the churches which claim to honor God as the ‘maker of heaven and earth,’ have lately shown little inclination to honor the earth or to protect it from those who would dishonor it.”
In a later chapter McLaren discusses large scale name-calling and how it destroys a country’s unity. He cites as an example the Hutus-Tutsi problem. Calling other groups cockroaches and tall trees isn’t helpful. I remember in my study of spousal abuse that most men who batter cannot do it unless they denigrate their wives by calling them derogatory names like…..well…I cannot write them here….but I’m sure you get it.
He quotes Donald Rumsfeld, “We have a choice, either to change the way we live, or to change the way they [muslim terrorists] live, and we choose the latter.”
McLaren’s view is that this is all wrong. We should instead be saying,
“We have a choice, either to change the unacceptable way we live, or to change the unacceptable way they live, which is impossible to do against their will—without stooping to ethnic cleansing so they don’t live at all So, we choose the former, in the confidence that a voluntary change in our behavior will precipitate an unexpected change in their behavior.”
You see this kind of optimism throughout the book.
Next he goes into capitalism which he names Theocapitalism. He gives the Four Spiritual Laws of Theocapitalism which is bringing us into crisis.
Law 1-The Law of Progress Through Rapid Growth
Law 2-The Law of Serenity Through Possession and Consumption
Law 3-The Law of Salvation Through Competition Alone
Law 4-The Law of Freedom to Prosper Through Unaccountable Corporations
The upshot of all of these “Laws” is greed and unlimited growth and consumption.
Here is how McLaren says Jesus confronts these Laws:
Law 1-The Law of Good Deeds of the Common Good
Law 2-The Law of Satisfaction Through Gratitude and Sharing
Law 3-The Law of Salvation Through Seeking Justice
Law 4-The Law of Freedom to Prosper by Building Better Communities
He asks, “What benefits will come to the rich if the poor are better off? What dangers and negative consequences will follow for the rich if the poor are not better off?”
Then he asks, “What kind of world will we who are comparatively rich and powerful bequest to our children and grandchildren if we do not redirect our energies from accumulation, and self-protection toward compassion, service and equity? And what kind world will we bequeath to future generations if equity becomes our sacred passion and personal ambition?”
Of course, talking about equity systems and rich vs. poor would necessitate discussing economics which he does in chapter 30. He presents seven categories of development economics.
1. Trade-we need to integrate free trade with fair trade. The United States, McLaren says, needs to hear the rising anger of what some other countries perceive as unfair U.S. trade policies.
2. Aid-Aid is essential but has been poorly planned, coordinated and administered.
3. Debt-Debt payments need to be administered more wisely.
My Comment: This certainly has merit as we have seen in pre-WWII Germany. Much of Hitler’s rise was due to the excessive reparations payments required, especially by France.
4. Limits-we must live within environmental and biological limits. Why should the Southern Hemisphere restrict their birth rate if the Northern countries squander resources? And vice-versa: why should Northern Hemisphere countries save and contain their resources if the Southern countries do nothing to control their population. Interesting point.
5. Wages-Protect poor workers from exploitation. Have a relational factor in companies. For example, the CEO cannot earn a certain times the lowest paid worker.
6. Justice-Governments need to be accountable to maintain an equality of justice for all.
7. Community-Strengthen families and communities through coming against unjust practices that cause destruction.
In chapter 32 he goes back to discussing the suicide machine that he talked about earlier. He says,
“The way to dismantle the suicide machine is to deny it the fuel on which it runs: confidence—confidence in its framing story. The way to create a generous, generative, and humane alternative society. In place of the suicide machine is to believe the good news of the kingdom of God.”
In the concluding chapters he points out the similarities between the fight against abortion and the fight against greenhouse gases, He writes that both follow from the same script—“we can engage in pleasurable or profitable behaviors with undesired consequences and either avoid the consequences or clean them up later.”
I think he makes a good point here. He is basically saying that the church has been focusing too much on the personal behaviors of people and neglecting the larger societal problems. In fact, this IMO is the theme of the entire book.
He ends the book with a call to action involving these four points:
1. Personal Action-disbelieving the old framing story and replacing it with the new one (the one he presents in this book)
2. Community Action-He says the church needs to stop being chaplains of the dominant system and provide an alternative. He says many churches are changing into more missional churches and he says their emergence will be one of the most developments in our time.
3. Public Action-From non-violent methods of social change including civil disobedience, rallies and festivals, political organizing, artistic expression and public demonstration, people bonding together can change the framing story.
4. Global Action-This will come out of Community and Public Action. He says “this will change the societal map of greed, lust, arrogance, fear, racism, domination, oppression, revenge and injustice. He wants people to label these as unacceptable, unnatural and changeable.
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