I'll begin my admitting my bias. I have been looking forward to this book. McLaren's work has been a blessing to me and has reinvigorated my faith. That being said, introduction is vintage McLaren. On every page I was struck with the sense of "I'm not alone," and "I'm not crazy". He beautifully articulates thoughts and feelings that I've been having for years. Has Christianity in it's most popular forms somehow missed or lost the major thrust of Jesus' message and elevated other things, which though important, were never meant to have the prominence they now enjoy?
Chapter 1 is titled "Troubling Questions About Jesus". It begins with almost 2 full pages of questions about Jesus and his message that will indeed trouble you if you will actually consider them. They are not however the kind of questions that critics would accuse him of asking. From the title, many are assuming that McLaren is promoting a Gnostic view of Jesus. This is most assuredly not the case. The divinity of Jesus is quite firmly upheld and affirmed. What is questioned is our perceptions and understandings. McLaren asks "What if Jesus of Nazareth was right--more right in different ways than we ever realized? What if Jesus had a message that could truly save the world, but we're prone to miss the point of it?" This chapter is a very useful exercise in thought for those who are willing to go through it.
Chapter 2 is on "The Political Message of Jesus". In in, McLaren outlines the 4 major "political parties" of Jesus' day (Pharisees, Saducees, Zealots, Essenes), and then compares and contrasts Jesus' message/methods with theirs. It is quite an informative exercise with far reaching implications that branch into our own day and culture.
Chapter 3 explores "The Jewish Message of Jesus". This chapter brings to mind the work of N.T. Wright (particularly "The New Testament and the People of God"), though it is done in a more accessible way than Wright's scholarly work. McLaren has certainly done his homework. This background is absolutely key to understanding Jesus and his message in context. I am genuinely excited about the release of this book so that this type of contextualization will be available in such a readable form.
Chapter 4 examines "The Revolutionary Message of Jesus." It begins with a summary of the story of scripture very similar to the one presented in "The Story We Find Ourselves In". Some may consider this to be rehashing old material, but I find it to be quite necessary for the argument McLaren is building and appreciate it's inclusion here. This chapter also includes a nod to eschatology that is strikingly different from the "Escapist" eschatologies that are currently enjoying popularity. Without giving away too much, the "revolution" that the title refers to is eschatological in nature and the implication is that Jesus and his followers were/are revolutionaries moving toward that end.
Chapter 6 is titled "The Hidden Message of Jesus", and begins by examining the fact that Jesus messages weren't overtly religious. His teaching honestly can't be extolled for it's clarity. Jesus was often quite vague. McLaren raises the question, "What could possibly be the benefit of Jesus's hiddenness, intrigue, lack of clarity, metaphor, and answering questions with questions? Why risk being misunderstood--or not understood at all? If the message is so important, why hide it in evocative rather than technical language?" Why indeed?
McLaren will surprise his critics in a few instances, (though I'm sure they will dismiss it because they presume to know what he "really means"). For example, on page 6 he states, "A lot of people say, 'It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.' I'd like to challenge that belief. Believing untrue things puts you at odds with reality, and can prove downright destructive." That's not quite the relativist statement you would expect from reading his critics. He also notes the contemporary fascination with the "Gnostic Gospels" and "The Davinci Code". He wonders how we could have reached a point where the Jesus presented in those so called accounts could seem more interesting to some people than the Jesus presented in the canonical gospels. He suggests that a benefit from all this hype is that, while those accounts themselves are misleading, they could force us to consider "the possibility that the church's conventional versions of Jesus may not do him justice."
So far this has been a fascinating read. I'll (hopefully) post a review on the section 2 next Thursday.