Monday, January 30, 2006

"The Secret Message of Jesus" Section 3 Review

I'm still loving this book. I think it's not only good, but also quite important. I recommend, without reservation that you pick up a copy as soon as you can. Below I will review section 3. This is the final section of the book, but note that there are 3 additional appendices which I plan to review on Thursday. Now, let's get to the review.

Section 3 is titled "Imagination: Exploring how Jesus's secret message could change everything".

Chapter 14: "Kingdom Manifesto"--In this chapter, McLaren walks us through "The Sermon on The Mount". If one buys into Jesus' "Secret Message", what does that mean for the way they live their life? McLaren sees this passage as being key to answering that question. He explains:
"I should acknowledge that many people assume the sermon intends to answer one question--namely, 'How does an individual go to heaven after death?' This was my assumption as well for many years, but as I have reflection the life and message of Jesus, I have become convinced that Jesus is exploring a very different set of questions--namely, 'What kind of life does God want people to live? What does life in the kingdom of God look like? What is a truly good (or righteous) life? How does this message differ from conventional messages?' Rather than directing our attention to life after death in heaven, away from this life and beyond history, these questions return our focus to the here and now--and in so doing, they provide an essential window into Jesus' secret message."

Chapter 15: "Kingdom Ethics"--Here, McLaren continues his exploration of the "Sermon on the Mount", looking specifically at "spiritual practices" and character. This is a really challenging chapter. I don't mean that its tough to read or that its tough to understand. It's quite simple in those areas actually. I mean it will challenge you at a deeply personal level. He asks deeply penetrating questions dealing with the way we tend to center our lives around the "unholy trinity of money, sex and power", and then points to 3 ways that Jesus message combats this tendency"

Chapter 16: "The Language of the Kingdom"--This is a great chapter. McLaren points out that the wording of the message of Jesus was not crafted in a vacuum. Jesus message was constructed in language that was relative to the time and culture in which he originally delivered it. (Note: The language of the message is relative, not the message itself). Jesus used the term "Kingdom of God" because that phrase evoked certain images in the minds and hearts of his listeners...images that are almost certainly NOT evoked in the minds and hearts of 21 Century Americans (or anyone else in the world for that matter). Here McLaren explores 6 metaphors that he sees as "have(ing) a lot of promise" for helping us to hear the message as the first listeners would have. In my opinion, what he comes up with here is brilliant.

Chapter 17: "The Peaceable Kingdom"--In this chapter, McLaren explores the theme of peace or Shalom in Jesus' message. He explores pacifism and "just war theory", giving plenty of room for different convictions, but asking challenging questions, none the less. This one will make you think.

Chapter 18: "The Borders of the Kingdom"--Here, McLaren explores the ideas of inclusion and exclusion. He advances the idea that it's inclusiveness is one of the main things that makes Jesus' message so revolutionary. Even so, Brian makes a point to also maintain that some exclusiveness is, in fact necessary (much to the surprise of his critics, I'm sure). He says:
"If the kingdom of God were a symphony, it would welcome anyone who had a desire to learn to play music--from tuba player to piccolo players, from violinists to percussionists. It would accept beginners and master musicians, probably by pairing up the novices with mentors who could help them to learn. But it could not welcome people who hated music or who wanted to shout and scream and disrupt rehearsals and concerts; that would ruin the music for everyone and destroy the symphony. True, it would try to influence music haters to become music lovers, but it couldn't accept them into the symphony until they wanted to be there because of a love of music."

Chapter 19: "The Future of The Kingdom"--In this chapter, McLaren explores what I have referred to elsewhere as a "restorationist eschatology". If that last sentence didn't make any sense to you, he's basically discussing what's commonly referred to as "end times" in many Christian circles. This however is not the philosophy of the "Left Behind" books. This is a Biblically based Eschatology of hope. It's a view in which God doesn't just give up on his dream for the world in Genesis 3, but rather sees God as working toward the "restoration" or "renewal" of "all things". In this view the project is actually going somewhere (other than oblivion). It also explores the idea that our afterlife consists not of disembodied bliss in a nonmaterial heaven, but rather a resurrected, embodied existence in a Re-newed Creation. If you've never explored these ideas before, I beg you to read this. It will give you hope like you've never known.

Chapter 20: "The Harvest of the Kingdom"--"But what about 'heaven'?" one might ask after reading the previous chapter. Here, McLaren explores that very Biblical idea as well and how it fits into the picture.

Chapter 21: "Seeing the Kingdom"--In this final chapter, McLaren explores what N.T. Wright refers to as the "already and not yet" aspect of the kingdom. In scripture, the Kingdom is referred to as both a present and future reality. Most of us don't have that hard of a time thinking of it as a future reality (though we aren't quite sure how it will get there). On the other hand, when we look around at the world we live in, we see so many things that are out of harmony with God's will and Jesus' message. McLaren maintains that there are many places where the kingdom is breaking through, if you know how to look for it, and explores how we can do exactly that. This chapter included a quote from Frederick Buechner that actually brought tears to my eyes.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. You have got to read this book. It will change your a good way. There is an "Afterward" in the book that I will simply let speak for itself when you read it. I will remind you that there are 3 appendices that I will review on Thursday.


Pooh said...

I'm upset.

I'm upset that I can't read the book until April.

Good review.

Matt said...

I second Pooh. I've been waiting to read this thing for months now. I'm seriously jealous right now.