Dave Guzik on „Everything must change“

Thoughts from Reading Everything Must Change by Brian D. McLaren

Overall Thoughts

By what standard should the book be measured? I will present two standards and give my assessment according to each.

Is there something good I can take from this book?

The answer is, “Certainly yes.” I think – generally speaking – that McLaren ends the book in a good place: calling Christians (though he is loathe to call them “Christians”) to live lives of practical godliness, in a way that effects society and does good works.

What is the general theology, Biblical understanding, and world outlook of the author? Is this a book that I would recommend to others without reservation?

On this measure, I think McLaren’s book falls short – far short. If I believe that McLaren generally ends the book in a good place, I think he gets there despite significant Biblical misinterpretations and bad social thinking.

In the first chapter, McLaren promises to chart the path for “a new kind of Christian,” but his “new kind of Christian” looks suspiciously like a social gospel liberal Christian of the early 20th century. Like that social gospel liberal Christian, he seems to only takes the Bible seriously as far as it advances his own social activism, and he practices a radical reductionism regarding the spiritual work of Jesus and His Kingdom, protesting against what he decides is an overly spiritual approach to Christianity.

One can say that when Christians bought into modernism, the result was social gospel liberalism. Now, under guys like McLaren, the church is buying into postmodernism and the result is – social gospel liberalism. Wouldn’t it be better for the church to keep itself, as much as possible, independent of philosophical systems and try to be Biblical in their outlook?

Chapter 1 – Hope Happens

“I’m not another blah-blah-blah person ranting about how bad the world is and how guilty you should feel for taking up space in it.” (1)

“It’s a conversation about what it means to be ‘a new kind of Christian’ – not an angry and reactionary fundamentalist, not a stuffy traditionalist, not a blasé nominalist, not a wishy-washy liberal, not an New Agey religious hipster, not a crusading religious imperialist, and not an over enthused Bible-waving fanatic – but something fresh and authentic and challenging and adventurous.” (2-3)

Comment: After reading the book, I come back to this statement and believe that McLaren never delivered on this promise. His “new kind of Christian” looks very much like “a wishy-washy liberal” and somewhat of “an New Agey religious hipster.” McLaren never comes close to challenging religious leftists and eco-hipsters they way he does his real enemies, the “angry and reactionary fundamentalist,” the “stuffy traditionalist,” the “crusading religious imperialist,” and the “over enthused Bible-waving fanatic.”

From reading the whole book, I wonder if McLaren has these definitions in mind:

  • Angry and reactionary fundamentalist: Anyone who defends traditional Christianity.

  • Stuffy traditionalist: Anyone who thinks in terms of traditional morality.

  • Crusading religious imperialist: Anyone who thinks that there is one name under heaven by which men must be saved, and cares about bringing that one name to the world.

  • Over-enthused Bible-waving fanatic: Anyone who takes the Bible seriously in a traditional evangelical way.

“They share my belief that the versions of Christianity we inherited are largely flattened, watered down, tamed . . . offering us a ticket to heaven after death, but not challenging us to address the issues that threaten life on earth.” (3)

Questions McLaren asks:

Why do we argue about abortion but not helping poor people and avoiding killing people we call enemies?

Why are we concerned about homosexual marriage, but not about fossil fuels or weapons of mass destruction?

Why are we concerned about evolution but not ecological preservation?

“If we religious people have exclusively seized on a couple of hot-button questions, what other questions should we be thinking about that nobody’s asking?” (4)

Big concerns (5):

1. Environmental breakdown; prosperity crisis

2. Gap between rich and poor; equity crisis

3. Cataclysmic war; security crisis

4. Failure of world religions to solve or help the above three problems; spirituality crisis

Part 1 – Two Preoccupying Questions

Chapter 2 – The Amahoro Flowing Between Us

Question #1 – What are the biggest problems in the world?

Question #2 – What does Jesus have to say about these global problems?

It seems that “people going to hell” doesn’t number among one of the biggest problems in the world for McLaren.

These two questions brought forth another one:

Why hasn’t the Christian religion made a difference commensurate with its message, size, and resources? What would need to happen for followers of Jesus to become a greater force for good in relation to the world’s top problems? How could we make a positive difference?” (12)

Chapter 3 – Everything Must Change

As McLaren describes the message of Claude in Africa (18-20), the “only I heard one sermon” message, it seems like the answer is not a political-social crusade Christianity, but a complete teaching of the Bible. That would show them how to live, beyond simply “getting saved.”

“Did North American church leaders teach the early colonists to treat the Native Peoples with love and respect? Did they consistently and with one voice oppose slavery because it was an assault on the dignity of fellow human beings? Later in our history, did they express outrage over the exploitation of factory workers or the second-class status of women? Did they stand up for refugees and immigrants? Did they oppose white privilege, segregation, anti-Semitism, stereotyping of Muslims, and other forms of ethnic prejudice?” (20)

Comment: McLaren doesn’t seem to know that Christians were indeed in the forefront of changing these things. He says that it was “too few, and too late.” But how could one measure such a thing?

“We considered how this message of the kingdom – contrary to popular belief – was not focused on how to escape this world and its problems by going to heaven after death, but instead was focused on how God’s will could be done on earth, in history, during this life. We described God’s kingdom in terms of God’s dreams coming true for this earth, of God’s justice and peace replacing earth’s injustice and disharmony.” (21)

Comment: This all flows from McLaren’s eschatology. He believes that it is the church’s duty to create or implement the Kingdom of God on earth. I don’t know why he wants to diminish the spiritual aspects of the Kingdom of God, why he has to promote his social/political understanding of the Kingdom of God at the expense of a spiritual understanding.

The “colonial” and “postcolonial” categories are typical leftist political labels. It’s common to blame a laundry list of the problems of the developing world on the colonial past, and to ignore the benefits of colonialism.

Chapter 4 – Not What Jesus Intended

His story about the South African man who called the work of preachers “useless” has a good idea in it; but again, it would be largely cured by simply teaching people the Bible in its entirety. It would then show them how to live, not just how to get saved.

I find it strange that the things McLaren seems to think that the things mentioned on page 30 are somehow very new or fresh or cutting edge. Doesn’t he see that these things have been done by Christians for oh, about 2,000 years? If he feels called to speak to a new Generation of Christians to do it all over again, and to do it more, then great. But it is arrogant for him to think that “The whole Christian world is pretty much screwed up and misguided, and I’m going to set it straight.”

Chapter 5 – Second Thoughts Had Come to Stay

“Learning about the dark side of the Christian religion’s track record . . . the Crusades, witch burnings, colonialism, slavery, the Holocaust, apartheid, environmental irresponsibility, mistreatment of women.” (33)

Comment: Is he serious? All of these are laid at the door of Christianity? Just another example of modern leftist politically correct “we’re always to blame” thinking.

“More and more reflective Christian leaders are beginning to realize that for the millions of young adults who dropped out of their churches in the late twentieth and early twentieth-first centuries, the Christian religion appears to be a failed religion.” (33)

Comment: Is the rate of young people forsaking the church any greater today than in the last few generations? Why does that mean that Christianity is a failed religion in their eyes? Is this reason why people leave Christianity, because they think it is a failed religion? Aren’t there many other reasons why someone might leave Christianity? Isn’t it common for young people to leave the church for a period, and then come back in later adulthood?

“Truly good news, they feel, would confront systemic injustice, target significant global dysfunctions, and provide hope and resources for making a better world – along with helping individuals experience a full life.” (34)

In his discussion about postmodernism, McLaren writes:

“But to hold our faith in good conscience, we need to debug it from the viruses (modern, Western, colonial, imperial, rationalist, reductionist, and other types of viruses) that seem to have invaded its software.”

But has McLaren debugged postmodernism, or does he simply buy into it?

McLaren says that main problem postmodernism is trying to address is excessive confidence, and therefore says that we shouldn’t be too confident – in anything but postmodernism.

Part Two – Suicidal System

Chapter 6 – Simmering on the Back Burner of My Mind

In his discussion of postcolonialism, McLaren seems to divide the world according to modern, leftist politically correct thinking: the oppressors and the oppressed. Basically, the oppressors can do no right and the oppressed can do no wrong. It’s related to the Marxist idea of economic determinism, where behavior and thinking is always mostly based on economics.

I wish McLaren would read more of Bjorn Lomborg; he has excellent ideas on how to practically meet the problems of the developing world, realizing that resources are finite and that it makes sense to channel resources into the areas where they will do the most good.

Good that he mentions the unintended consequences of welfare programs on page 50; he should do more thinking about the unintended consequences of helping others.

Chapter 7 – Three Interlocking Systems

Describes modern society as a “Suicide Machine” made up of three parts: a Prosperity System, a Security System, and a Equity System.

Chapter 8 – That Could Never Happen to Us

Fundamental errors: thinking of all this as a closed system. We don’t live in a “fishbowl” and we as “goldfish” have the ability to change and improve our environment. He seems to think the environment is getting worse, when by most measures it is getting better.

Chapter 9 – The Stories We Tell Ourselves

“We find, nested in the larger framing story shared by both rich and poor, a huge bank of patriotic and religious stories that celebrate how ‘redemptive violence’ has helped good people (‘us’) to defeat evil people (‘them’) throughout history.” (69)

Comment: Is he serious? I guess there are no good people and no bad people in history, and all violence has been bad.

On page 71 McLaren mentions victim narratives and then spends much of the rest of the book reinforcing them.

The description of narratives and framing stories is typically postmodern; no wonder McLaren was an English Professor before becoming a pastor.

Part 3: Reframing Jesus

Chapter 10 – How Much More Ironic

News, of course, means a story – a story of something that has happened or is happening that you should know about.” (77)

“Jesus was saying in essence, ‘There are a lot of bad stories in our world. But I have a good story that frames the bad ones, that puts them in a new light, that says they aren’t the last word. I have a good story that inspires healing and transformative action in our world.’” (77)

“Of course, there aren’t really just two views; there are hundreds – at least as many as there are denominations of Christianity, and maybe even as many as there are individual Christians, since each of us has a view of Jesus both like and unlike the views of others.” (77-78)

Looking at McLaren’s description of “The Human Situation” on page 78 in both the “conventional view” and the “emerging view,” I would reject either one. Most of all, I would reject his description of the “conventional view” as strongly loaded against that view.

His description of “Basic Questions” is also lame. “What must be done about the mess we’re in?” (78) This is Jesus’ fundamental question, asked mostly with an eye to the present domination by the Roman Empire?

His description of “Jesus’ Message” (79) is strange. The “conventional view” is made as harsh as possible; while the “emerging view” says nothing about the cross or a substitionary sacrifice.

His description of the “Purpose of Jesus” – the “emerging view” says, “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.” The seed of grace Jesus brought will “prevail over the evil and injustice of humanity and lead to the world’s ongoing transformation into the world God dreams of.”

The problem with the conventional view is that it “poses little or no significant challenge to the dominant framing story that currently directs our societal machinery in its suicidal trajectory.” (80-81)

“The conventional view relegates Jesus to practical irrelevance in relation to human social problems in history; his message is about the soul, its guilt before god, and its afterlife, not about our world and its crises.”

The first four of McLaren’s reasons why the emerging view is better than the conventional view can be boiled down to this: the conventional view isn’t Marxist enough.

The fifth reason is basically a denial of God’s justice; claiming that man has no reason to fear the wrath of God.

The sixth reason is that the conventional view makes the world worse. The only problem is that it hasn’t made the world worse; it has made the world almost immeasurably better.

Why does McLaren present the conventional vs. emerging views as an “either/or” proposition? Who dictates to me what either the “conventional” or “emerging/really cool” view is? Can’t I read the Bible for myself and figure this out, or do I need McLaren to tell me what the right Biblical view really is?

“Jesus in the conventional view has little or nothing to say regarding the world’s global crises. The real issue is our individual souls and their eternal postmortem destiny.” (82-83)

McLaren’s description of life in the Roman Empire (83-86) seems to miss the fact that though it was bad compared to modern standards, it was far better than in aboriginal or in many barbarian cultures. Yes, Mr. McLaren: life in the Roman Empire was bad; but where was it good? Wasn’t it in fact better for many or most in the Roman Empire than elsewhere?

Chapter 11 – Switching Jigsaw Lids

In the opening of this chapter McLaren speaks from the tired old leftist framework that the “powerless” or “oppressed” are just in their cause. Here is his list:

The Romans were to the Jews of Judea what . . .

  • The British were to the American colonists

  • The slave masters were to slaves

  • The frontiersmen were to Native Americans

  • The white South Africans were to black South Africans

  • The Israelis are to Palestinians

Got it? McLaren seems to suffer from an inability to make sound moral judgments.

The likening of those who talk of “taking America back” (89-90) to the murderous Zealots is just plain wrong.

Basically, in McLaren’s view, the “Religious Right” are the Essenes and the Zealots and the Pharisees and the Herodians and Sadducees. Good heavens, where is the “Religious Left”? McLaren does a very poor job delivering on his promise to give more than warmed-over, wimpy leftist Christianity.

McLaren describes what he believes the message of Jesus was: “Don’t let your lives be framed by the narratives and counternarratives of the Roman empire, but situate yourselves in another story . . . the good news that God is king, and we can live in relation to God and God’s love rather than Caesar and Caesar’s power.” (90)

It is wonderful to see that Jesus spoke and thought in the vocabulary of post-modern literary theory.

McLaren uses the illustration of the “picture on the lid of the jigsaw puzzle” (91). The critical question is, “You say the picture others use is wrong. Why should we believe your picture? What reason is there to believe that it is the right one, other than the fact that you like it?

Chapter 12 – No Junk DNA

“The Bible’s purpose, we assume, is to explain how to go to heaven, to legitimize certain religious institutions, to define in detail universal timeless truths, to provide a detailed timeline for the end of the world, and so on.” (94)

Comment: nice straw man.

“From Jesus’ perspective, outside the imperial narrative and within God’s liberating framing story, the steward is wise rather than unjust – wise enough to defect (as the rich young ruler should have done) from the service of the wealthy elite to give a break to the poor who are being crushed by the societal machinery driven by the imperial narrative.” (97)

Comment: Sheesh, more Marxist narrative – and an apparent misreading of the parable.

On Christ: “It is actually a Greek translation of messiah, meaning ‘the liberating king promised by God.’” (97)

“Jesus is saying, ‘Risk everything, including your life, to stand up to Caesar and join me in my revolution – not by fighting and killing, but by being willing to die with me.’” (97-98)

Comment: Yet Jesus was actually very non-confrontational with the Roman power system. He could have expressed His call to revolution to the Roman centurion, to Zaccheus, to Pilate, and others – yet did not.

Agrees with modernists who late-date the Book of Daniel. (98)

“In this light, exorcisms become ‘signs and wonders’ – prophetic actions that first depict the ‘possession’ of Israel by the demonic forces of empire, and then predict their expulsion by the kingdom of God.” (98-99)

Comment: Again, clearly this is postmodern literary criticism nonsense.

The idea that concepts like tax collectors, sinners, stewards, the Christ, the Son of Man, Lord, and Kingdom of God have been treated like “junk DNA” is preposterous. Just because we don’t buy into McLaren’s postmodern literary/Marxist revolutionary narrative doesn’t mean we don’t think those are important – even essential – concepts.

13 – Jamming the Accelerator, Slamming the Brakes

McLaren’s description of what Mary “should have said” on page 103 is another not-very-subtle straw man. He really dislikes those who don’t think like he does.

McLaren has it generally right when describing how Jesus refused to play into the messianic expectations of His contemporaries; he has it generally wrong when he tries to pain Jesus as a revolutionary against Rome.

14 – Or So It Appeared

Again, the emphasis: “This emerging understanding of Jesus – locating him in relation to the narratives and counternarratives of empire.” (109)

On Caesarea Philippi: “For Jesus to lead his disciples to this city, then, would be an intentional move evoking many layers of meaning – perhaps akin to a leader today bringing his followers to Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Soweto, or the Gaza Strip.” (110)

Comment: The Gaza Strip? Again, McLaren shows either a profound moral ignorance or a profound hatred of Jews by equating the Gaza Strip with Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and Soweto. He seems to buy into the essential Marxist and deeply leftist view that the “oppressed” or “victims” are morally right simply because they are victims. Anyone who puts Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Soweto, and the Gaza Strip on the same moral continuum is a very morally confused person.

Christ is the Greek translation for the Hebrew term messiah, which means liberating king.” (111)

Comment: I dispute this nuance of McLaren; he does nothing here or in chapter 12 to demonstrate the essentially political charge he gives to the title. I would agree that first century Judaism had indeed charged the term Christ with a political meaning, but Jesus deliberately disowned that meaning.

McLaren wants to see the disciples and Jesus as more shaped by what he supposes about their culture than by the Old Testament – no wonder for a basically post-modern thinker.

“Jesus says, using a phrase that could aptly be paraphrased ‘the authority structures and control centers of evil.’” (111)

Comment: Says who? This is grasping; molding Jesus’ words to make one’s point. In promoting his view of “Jesus as leftist political revolutionary” McLaren bends and molds the Bible as he pleases, “paraphrasing” to his own satisfaction.

For McLaren, “the gates of hell” can’t be something spiritual; it has to be social and political, because that is what McLaren is interested in.

“ ‘My kingdom is not of this world,’ then, means the very opposite of ‘My kingdom is not in this world.’ Instead, it means my kingdom is very much in this world, but it doesn’t work the way earthly kingdoms or empires do.” (114)

McLaren is partly right here; but his instinct to draw everything to the social and political – and to demean the spiritual – is once again evident.

Part 4 – Reintroducing Jesus

15 – Peace Through Domination

“These fundamentalist movements also underestimate how equally situated their own interpretations and applications are.” (119)

Comment: Then why does so much of McLaren’s Biblical analysis sound like lefty cheerleading?

“Too few of them realize how the very scholarly terms they use constantly gain and shed negative and positive connotations. Nor are they aware of the power dynamics hidden in their methods and vocabularies. This naïveté is so pervasive and so accepted that one can hardly blame people for being taken in by it. Yet with suicide bombings in the news day after day, we can see where this naïveté can lead.” (120)

Comment: Again, McLaren shows himself as sold-out to postmodern theories of language, vocabulary, power, and so forth. All he knows is that those fundies who are too stupid to understand the Bible with his wisdom (though he “can hardly blame” the poor saps) are intellectual and spiritual brothers to the suicide bombers of Islam. Nice.

“It requires the ability to get a sense for the shape, feel, and direction of Jesus’ life and words, in the swirl and spin of his times, and find patterns of resonance with our own. It is from start to finish a matter of interpretation, which, like reading itself, is as much art as science.” (121-122)

Comment: McLaren sure is stuck in pomo relativism. One thing for sure: he knows that the real Jesus is a trendy lefty non-fundie Jesus.

Quoting Wright and Crossan, McLaren makes the case that the term “good news” was essentially a political term, meant to challenge the “good news” claimed by the Roman Empire.

“The empire uses crosses to punish rebels and instill fear and submission in the oppressed: Jesus will use a cross to expose the cruelty and injustice of those in power and instill hope and confidence in the oppressed.” (124)

Comment: Good Lord, what is he talking about? This is so contrary to the New Testament understanding and explanation of the cross that one hardly knows where to begin. The idea that Jesus used the cross to “expose the cruelty and injustice of those in power” – as if no one could see it otherwise! – is nonsense. Likewise, that the work of the cross was to “instill hope and confidence in the oppressed” – the cross did none of those things; it made the disciples afraid and despairing. If anything, the resurrection did these things; but McLaren seems to show himself as a man who simply doesn’t take the Bible seriously.

“Clearly, Jesus is deconstructing the dominant system of exclusion – not fortifying it.” (126)

Comment: McLaren is trying to explain why sometimes Jesus speaks of hell and judgment; which in McLaren’s view was reserved only for the religious leaders (presumably, McLaren’s fundamentalists). Therefore, Jesus is only challenging norms and turning paradigms upside down; He wasn’t really talking about hell, only “deconstructing the dominant system of exclusion.”

“No less striking than his family imagery, though less often appreciated, is Jesus’ sensitivity to ecology – evident in his many parables about farming and fishing and weather.”

Comment: McLaren is lapsing into the ridiculous. To say that the parables of Jesus show Him to be a modern day “green” is ridiculous and an example of hopeless projection onto the text.

16 – Occupying Regime, Equity Gap, Excrement Factory

Jesus would not use the phrase, “Kingdom of God” today. Today, He would use other terms to address our current crises:

“To address the global security crisis, Jesus might speak of the divine peace insurgency.” (128)

“To confront the global equity crisis, Jesus might speak of God’s unterror movement.” (129)

“The equity gap that separates rich from poor renders them enemies rather than neighbors, so everyone is caught up in the ultimate vicious cycle of terror and counterterror, violence and counterviolence, hate and counterhate.” (129)

Comment: Seems like tired, old, Marxist economic determinisim.

“Jesus might confront the global prosperity crisis by announcing the new global love economy.” (130)

“Jesus might encapsulate his alternative framing story in the image of God’s sacred ecosystem.” (131)

“Like lovers whose mutual affection overflows and seeks to express itself in the triune miracle of intercourse, conception, and birth, the living God creates a universe to express and share a generous overflow of love, joy, and life.” (131-132)

Ends the chapter with criticism of what he calls “the New Right.” They exercise disproportionate control over society because they control the stories. Instead, we need to turn to Jesus, who “dedicated his life to changing the prevailing stories.” (133 – quoting David Korten)

17 – How Different It Would Be

The tone of this chapter – basically, promoting an eco-friendly Christianity – seems much more based on what McLaren wishes Jesus would have been and said, rather than what really was. He concludes the chapter:

“Sadly, because we are so fully indoctrinated by the imperial framing narrative of our day, few of us can begin to imagine how different it would be to live in the framing story of Jesus.”

To which I would say: Sadly, McLaren is indeed simply imagining this framing story of Jesus; emphasizing what he wants to, ignoring what he doesn’t want to deal with, and creating a context – a “framing story” – that can make Jesus say pretty much what McLaren thinks He should have said.

18 – Which Jesus?

McLaren just can’t seem to get beyond his romanticizing of nature, of economic systems, and the such. He is like those Enlightenment romantics who thought the aboriginal cultures were so noble and good, turning a blind eye to their problems.

“What Barry calls ‘true religion’ – a proper love and respect for all God’s creatures – names the sacred ecosystem of God, which is the kingdom of God, which is the only sane alternative to the destructive economies and narratives that drive our world today, as it was in the days of Jesus.” (142)

McLaren seems to sense how ridiculous he sounds:

“Please, please don’t make what I am saying ridiculous by calling it a ‘flower child’ theology or relating it to some kind of idealistic, romantic nonsense. Please ask yourself: What if Jesus isn’t being cute and romantic in the Sermon on the Mount?” (142-143)

I just wish McLaren would ask himself the same question. He is the one who is making Jesus the flower child, not the reader. He isn’t giving us a reason to believe that he isn’t ridiculously pandering to 21st century eco-fadism.

What McLaren says about those who don’t share his eschatology:

“This version reflects a deconversion, a return to trust in the power of Pilate, not the unarmed truth that stood before Pilate, refusing to fight.” (144)

Comment: Wow. Later he says that those who believe in the Jesus described in Revelation 19 (and other passages) believe in a “jihadist Jesus of a violent second coming.” (144)

No wonder he says: “This is why I believe that many of our current eschatologies, intoxicated by dubious interpretations of John’s Apocalypse, are not only ignorant and wrong, but dangerous and immoral.” (144)

Comment: I thought these guys wanted to be nice and move beyond labels? “Ignorant,” “wrong,” “dangerous,” and “immoral” are usually conversation stoppers. So much for the conversation.

A straw man caricature of premillennial eschatology on page 145.

This book is written in very short chapters.

Part 5 – The Security System

Chapter 19 – Joining the Peace Insurgency

“We can begin rebuilding our societal system, not as a suicidal machine, but as a beloved community, the kind of garden city envisioned in John’s Apocalypse.” (151)

Pages 152-153: McLaren just won’t let go of his caricature of Christians being socially inactive or uninterested in social good. All he brings up for an example is an old quote about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

“We are in the early stages of a radical reassessment of Jesus.” (154)

Good heavens, what is he talking about? Nobody had Jesus right until McLaren and the emergents came along? And they think they are the “humble” ones looking for a “conversation.”

Jesus, through the help of the Syro-Phoenician woman: “He gains new insight into the God-given scope of his mission.” (156)

Examples of McLaren’s expository techniques are found on 155-157

“For Jesus the motto is peace through nonviolent justice, peace through the forgiveness of enemies, peace through reconciliation, peace through embrace and grace.” (159)

Comment: It’s impressive how hard McLaren works to avoid the ideas of the cross or reconciliation with God. For him, salvation is only social; probably as a reaction to what he thinks is a purely spiritual salvation championed by others.

Chapter 20 – Whose Side Are We On?

Starting on page 161, McLaren says that the effects of “Christianization” have not been evident in Western culture because the national security policies of Western nations do not take seriously the “peace insurgency” of Jesus.

Again, wow. He seems to have no knowledge of Romans 13 and the mandate of God to government to restrain evil. He would have the police turn the other cheek to criminals; which goes against their God given calling.

Pages 162-164: tired, Marxist-serving-pacificistic, anti-Americanism.

Page 166, capitalizing “Shock and Awe”: what a boob. Doesn’t even know that titles are customarily capitalized. Was this guy an English prof or major? Good heavens.

“Perhaps we could say, then, that the war on terror had identified itself as a war of terror – or a war of competing terrors: organized and wealthy US terror against random and improvised jihadist terror.” (166)

More and more of the moral equivalence . . . seems like exactly the same stuff the left said about America in the Cold War.

He condemns the USA for “craving for absolute security” and says how this makes us morally bankrupt in the eyes of the world (168). Seems to not understand that America’s security is the world’s security. Whom would he rather have dominate the world? China? Russia? A new Muslim Caliphate? It is true that the United States dominates the world, but it is the most benign and beneficial world-domination that history has ever seen.

Why doesn’t he sink into despair? Because “despair is boring and uncreative.” McLaren is almost beyond parody.

Chapter 21 – Layers and Layers More

170: World peace problems are rooted in USA aggression.

Flower-child “let’s all hold hands” nonsense. Does not take the problem of evil in the world seriously; thinks that the USA is the problem.

Chapter 22 – Joining Warriors Anonymous

“Just as fine wines and well-crafted beers offer much for aficionados to appreciate (as would, I imagine, a well-bred strain of cannabis or opium), war offers many fine and noble things to be celebrated and appreciated.” (176)

Comment: In this and the follow, McLaren shows again that he cannot take the problem of evil seriously. War is sometimes helpful and good because it stops evil regimes. War was good when it stopped Hitler. War was good when it defended Korea. It wasn’t just the nobility and self-sacrifice and the rest that McLaren mentions; it is the simple fact that war can be used to accomplish good things, just as a policeman’s violence can be used to accomplish good things.

Secondly, the reference to “a well bred strain of cannabis or opium” is either a transparent attempt to provoke and get under the skin of readers – or to be über-cool to them. McLaren shows himself as a grandstander who can’t be taken seriously.

Long, rambling speech put in the mouth of Jesus (178).

179-180: Moves from the interpersonal (the micro) and the societal (the macro) without distinction

Part 6 – The Prosperity System

Chapter 23 – Capitalism as God

At the beginning of this chapter, McLaren summarizes his arguments from the previous chapters on security:

“Jesus’ good news of the kingdom of God addresses the security system, as we have seen, in powerful and far-reaching ways. It offers not a prescription but a way, not a formula but an adventure of faith, hope, and love. It is not a matter of naïve ignorance about the power of evil or a deluded romanticism about the good heart of the enemy; it is rather a loss of naivete about the power of violence to cure violence. It is a dose of realism about the futility of seeking security through living ‘by the sword’ (Matthew 26:52).” (189)

Comment: I don’t think McLaren proved this point at all. He has, in fact, demonstrated significant naivete about the power of evil and a deluded romanticism about the good heart of the enemy. He says that it is vain to seek security through living by the sword; but seems to ignore the fact that God has established the sword in civil government, as so specifically described in Romans 13:1-7:

  • God establishes the governing authorities

  • Governing authorities establish the ordinance of God

  • Resisting the governing authorities brings deserved judgment upon one’s self

  • Rulers are to be terror to evildoers

  • The ruler is God’s minister

  • The minister bears the sword, and does so as God’s minister

  • The ruler is to bring wrath upon those who practice evil

  • Christians are responsible to be subject to such rulers, and to support them with taxes, respect, and honor

The fact is that God wants civil authorities to use the sword in governing, and by extension we can say there is a legitimate place for the use of the sword – coercion by violence or the threat of violence – among nations in the community of nations.

Either Paul didn’t understand the gospel the way McLaren thinks Jesus presented the gospel, or McLaren is very confused – in a soft, naïve, reflexively left kind of way.

Interesting quote from Marx on 189-190; I wonder if Marx knew he was also (even especially) speaking about himself. He probably considered himself as exempt from those economists who take their theories as religion.

It is interesting and revealing that he mentions the TV network Fox on page 190. This network is perceived to be center-right, and it (according to McLaren) is the one along with MTV that “become powerful forms of religious broadcasting, evoking fear and hope, love and hate, obedience and rebellion, forming souls under the guidance of famous spiritual directors.” This is another display of McLaren’s reflexive leftist thinking, because he could have just as accurately and easily used CSN or any other major network (all left or center-left) as examples, but he singles out the center-right network Fox.

His characteristics of how “consumer media capitalism” is like a religion are generally accurate and good, if somewhat overstated (190-191).

His “Four Spiritual Laws of Theocapitalism”:

1. The Law of Progress through Rapid Growth

It is interesting to think that communistic socialism was/is far more concerned with rapid growth than capitalism. One of the “glories” of communism was the perceived rapid growth achieved by the five year plans and all. The idea was that collectivism and central planning could achieve growth much more rapidly.

2. The Law of Serenity through Possession and Consumption

Good analysis.

3. The Law of Salvation through Competition Alone

He sees economic growth and progress mainly as a zero-sum game: I can only succeed if someone else loses. It is wrong to see it this way. It is entirely possible to have competitors mutually succeed in business and economics, though one may succeed more than the other.

4. The Law of Freedom to Prosper through Unaccountable Corporations

Nonsense. He attacks a caricature of corporations, instead of seeing them as they are: subject to government regulation, shareholders, suppliers, and most of all the market. To be sure, sometimes government fails in holding corporations accountable where they should; but that is government’s problem more than the corporations.

Chapter 24 – Obligations to Nonexistent Future People

Quoting Ray Anderson: “Every living system of earth is in decline. Every life support system of earth is in decline . . . We’re leaving a terrible legacy of poisoning and diminishment of the environment for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.” (200-201)

Comment: Sheesh, what nonsense. One hardly knows what to say. By almost any measure, lives are longer, air and water are cleaner, people are healthier, and the ecology is better now than 100 or 200 or 500 years ago. How can someone quote, much less write, such unthinking mush?

It is a familiar refrain: create a crisis and then assume more and more power over people because of the crisis.

I don’t trust or believe the kind of statistics cited on page 202. I’ve been hearing all those gloom and doom predictions my life; many of them predicting catastrophe by 2000 or whenever (ecological disaster, overpopulation, global famine, and so forth). Not only have those predictions proved false, often the opposite has happened.

Quoting Herman Daly:

Daly says, they ‘must both consume less and become more self-sufficient.’ Yet the priests of theocapitalism give the opposite advice: ‘ . . . we should become less self-sufficient and more globally integrated as part of the overriding quest to consume ever more.’ Daly concludes, ‘That is the worst advice I can think of.’ (203)

Comment: I imagine that Mr. Daly and Mr. McLaren rather enjoy their modern lives, safety, security, health care, food, and so forth. Let them volunteer to go back to subsistence farming and living in primitive conditions. This is simply modern Hollywood-trendy-eco-fascist thinking. I suggest that they go and tell those primitives how great their lives really are.

“If Jesus is indeed a hero who can inspire others to heroism at this critical moment, then he must address this carelessness about future generations inherent in our contemporary societal narrative. He must expose the ‘intergenerational tyranny’ and suicide insanity of theocapitalist faith. He must bring a better story.” (204)

Comment: So let me get this straight:

  • Jesus is a hero, whose work seems to be inspiring others to heroism

  • Jesus is an anti-capitalist eco-hero

  • Jesus “must address this carelessness about future generations” regarding economic systems and ecological concerns

  • Jesus’ work includes bringing “a better story”

This isn’t heresy (I think); but it is silly and reductionist.

Chapter 25 – Quick Bliss through Footwear, Palate Grease, and Skin Paint

McLaren lists two answers to the four laws of theocapitalism.

1. The Law of Good Deeds for the Common Good

Generally, a good section dealing with the idea that Christians (though McLaren diligently avoids the term) should not live for money and material gain.

In this section, McLaren says:

“With no apologies to Martin Luther, John Calvin, or modern evangelicalism, Jesus (in Luke 16:19) does not prescribe hell to those who refuse to accept the message of justification by grace through faith, or to those who are predestined for perdition, or to those who don’t express faith in a favored atonement theory by accepting Jesus as their ‘personal Savior.’ Rather, hell – literal or figurative – is for the rich and comfortable who proceed on their way without concern for their poor neighbor day after day.” (208)

Comment: If McLaren is describing another way of salvation (in the sense of escape from hell), he is obligated to develop the idea more and not leave it with teasing ambiguity. He seems to clearly say that Jesus said that one can be saved by economic justice.

It’s also very annoying how McLaren says “those who don’t express faith in a favored atonement theory.” This is what he reduces the preaching of the cross to. I would love to have McLaren hear the Apostle Paul preach and say to him, “You’re just promoting salvation through expressing faith in your favored atonement theory.”

2. The Law of Satisfaction through Gratitude and Sharing

Generally good, though his examples of a global survey on happiness are ridiculous. Please, Mr. McLaren: go live among the Inuits of Greenland or the Masai of East Africa. Ignore the fact that according to the survey you quoted, horrible greedy materialistic Americans are happier than the Masai, and only .1 in the survey’s scale behind the happiest-in-the-world Inuits. According the survey you quote, horrible greedy materialistic Americans are doing remarkably well on the happiness scale. Your own cited survey disproves your point.

Chapter 26 – Collaboration for Co-liberation

Continuing on the answers to theocapitalism:

3. The Law of Salvation through Seeking Justice

True in its discussion of how there is no ultimate satisfaction in winning economic competition. False in the way it sets up a straw man of modern western economic systems.

4. The Law of Freedom to Prosper by Building Better Communities

In comparing capitalism and communism, he says that communism distributes poverty evenly; capitalism makes a very few fabulously wealthy and makes the vast majority poor, suffering in horrible degradation and indignity. He says that the world is waiting for a viable alternative to both. Has he never seen the socially responsible capitalism of Western Europe and America?

McLaren misstates the ideas of “trickle down” economics. The idea is more accurately stated is that one does not help the poor by afflicting the rich (unless the government is in the simple income redistribution business). McLaren thinks of the rich guy enjoying his yacht and thinks, “That man has his wealth because he stole it from the poor.” This is founded in the philosophies of class envy and Marxism.

“Both the poor and the rich need saving; one needs liberation from addictive wealth, and the other, liberation from oppressive poverty. Part of the work of the kingdom of God is to turn them from the ideologies of exploitation and victimization to a vision of collaboration in the kingdom of God – a kind of kingdom co-liberation.” (220-221)

Observations:

  • McLaren is entirely correct in saying that both rich and poor need saving, and that this salvation addresses their economic life

  • He is wrong in saying that the rich are necessarily addicted to wealth

  • He is wrong in saying that the work of the kingdom of God addresses the rich (“turn from the ideologies of exploitation and victimization”) and not the poor

Good that he points out at the bottom of page 221 that the rich are not necessarily morally deficient; he seems to forget this principle in other places.

It seems – despite his leftist rhetoric and hole-filled thinking – McLaren is basically calling for capitalism with a conscience. That is a good thing.

Chapter 27 – On the Side of the Rebel Jesus

McLaren wants to deal with the system, with the why of chronic poverty.

“As it rewards the aggressive, the dominant, and the hasty, the prosperity system withholds rewards from the peaceful, the humble, and the morally sensitive. Those who arrive first to a field of competition, especially those with the needed tools or weapons to commander resources from others, are given an insurmountable unfair advantage.” (230)

Comment: What is he talking about? This is just Marxist tripe. Again the thought, “The successful succeed only at the expense of the unsuccessful.”

In his thoughts at the bottom of 230 and the top of 231, he again recites Marxist tropes: social tension is primarily a matter of economic inequality. Violence, crime, and war are primarily economic. This is wrong, Marxist-flavored thinking (though it is very common); but fundamentally it is anti-Biblical, seeing man a primarily an economic being more than a moral or spiritual being.

McLaren’s fixation on economic disparity is also sad and misleading. Again, the unsaid assumption is that the rich make their money by victimizing the poor. The answer is to lift up the poor, not to bring down the rich; and the main reasons for poverty are political, social, cultural, and moral. The alternative is simply expressed in communism: “We’ll all be poor together, except the party elite.”

Chapter 28 – Beyond Blame and Shame

This chapter begins with trying to correct the damage of previous chapters. McLaren knows he has blamed the poverty of the poor on the wealth of the rich; now he tries to explain that it is actually systemic injustice that produces both the wealth of the rich and the poverty of the poor.

McLaren’s understanding of the parable of the landowner and the workers in Matthew 20 seems very flawed (239). It shows that God may deal with men in ways that seem very unequal to human observation, and that He is free to be more than fair with anyone. The parable seems to subvert McLaren’s points about economic equity, not support them.

His treatment of the parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16 (239-240) is also problematic. There is nothing in the parable that says that the debts were unfair or unrighteous. How can McLaren assume this?

McLaren’s treatment of the fundamental equity of the Kingdom of God on 241-242 is good. What he fails to understand is that all the examples he gives are examples from the lives of individuals, and McLaren challenges us to revolt against systems. Much to his horror, it seems that the transformation does happen person by person – just as classic evangelicalism holds.

The idea of collective and social sin, as McLaren presents it, is untenable.

“We must take seriously the full dimensions of collective sin. . . . . Sadly, in too many quarters we continue to reduce the scope of the gospel to the individual soul and the nuclear family, framing it in a comfortable, personalized format – it’s all about personal devotions, personal holiness, and a personal Savior. This domesticated gospel will neither rock any boats nor step out of them into stormy waters. We have in many ways responded to the big global crises of our day with an incredibly shrinking gospel. The world has said, ‘No thanks.’” (244)

Scary. McLaren envisions a Christianity that transforms society, presumably through political and economic influence; Christianity that dominates society politically, economically, morally, and so forth. History shows us very clearly that the church has not done well with such a concentration of power and influence. Perhaps McLaren can succeed where 1000 years of medieval Christianity failed.

McLaren protests that the free market won’t work, and quotes someone saying the same on page 245; but gives nothing to prove his point. If individuals in society are transformed, the free market will reflect that. Why were pubs and theaters shut down and jails emptied in the Welsh Revival of 1904? It wasn’t because of government or party politics. It was because society was transformed because individuals were transformed.

Of his three prescriptions on page 246:

1. Generously help the poor.

2. Call the rich to be generous.

3. Improve the system.

The first two are right on. His third is so vague and ethereal to be of no good; or perhaps if “successful” the cure would be worse than the disease.

Chapter 29 – A New Kind of Question

McLaren seems to miss the real question. It isn’t, “Why is there poverty?” Throughout the span of human history, poverty is normal. The better question is, “Why is there wealth?” He sees wealth as the normal condition, instead of being abnormal. He would do much better with considering, “What can be done to create wealth?” instead of blaming mysterious systems and the rich.

“I think about the United States, growing ever more conservative because it has so much to conserve.” (248-249)

Comment: Nonsense. The USA is far less conservative than it was in the 1950s or before. There has been a swing back to conservatism since the radical 1960s and 1970s, but it is just wrong to say in general the USA is “growing ever more conservative.”

Pages 249-250 basically send the idea that the rich of the world should send money to the poor. McLaren seems utterly blind to the fact that this has been happening for years and sadly it does not work. It does not work because the political, economic, and cultural systems of these countries does not utilize the aid in a meaningful way. The aid ends up enriching the NGOs and the corrupt national leaders, and does very little for those it was intended for.

McLaren seems to champion the kind of activism that makes the activist feel great, but does little good for the one it is supposedly trying to help.

“Our current politicians and religious leaders, as those in Jesus’ day, seem hell-bent on trivial matters.” (252) Presumably, personal and individual salvation is one of those “trivial matters” to McLaren.

30 – Organized Religion or Religion Organizing for the Common Good?

His first points: Trade, Aid, and Debt – are generally right on. Yet he grossly underestimates the challenge of effectively administering aid. He tends to think the problem is not enough aid instead of ineffective aid. If the ineffective aid problem is not solved first, then increasing aid won’t help one bit.

His section on Limits seems to think that the only real problem in the “South” world is overpopulation. The problems that prevent wealth there go much, much deeper than that.

Generally, this chapter is a collection of ideas – some good, some foolish; but all of them are just “Hey, why don’t we do that” kind of things.

Part Eight: A Revolution of Hope

Chapter 31 – The Most Radical Thing We Can Do

This chapter begins with a fairly good section of belief. Yet he goes into describing the work of Jesus on the cross in a very reductionist way on 271-272, making the cross essentially a political statement of protest against Rome. It is sad to reduce the glorious work of Jesus on the cross to this. If McLaren really believes the cross means more than this, he should give such a qualifying statement somewhere.

McLaren ends this chapter with a summary of what he has tried to say in the book. Over all, to challenge the idea that things are now working. Then he goes on to four points (273-274):

1. We live in a societal system or machine.

2. The system goes suicidal when driven by a destructive framing.

3. Jesus saw these dynamics at work in his day and proposed in word and deed a new alternative.

4. Jesus’ creative and transforming framing story invited people to change the world by disbelieving old framing stories and believing a new one.

Comment: McLaren is almost right. I would simply call the “societal system or machine” the world, in Biblical terms. I would never say that the “world goes suicidal” as if it started any other way or could do any other thing. The world is suicidal, in league with the flesh and the devil. Jesus’ alternative is much more rooted in the transformation and salvation of the individual than McLaren wants to believe.

Chapter 32 – An Unfolding, Emergent, Spiraling Process

It is interesting that in the list of people who have “echoed through history” Jesus’ story of the kingdom of God, he includes Mahatma Ghandi and Jane Goodall. Is there nothing distinctively Christian about Jesus’ story of the kingdom of God? (275)

The description of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on 276 and 277 is again, strangely and frighteningly reductionist. Is the work of Jesus on the cross really of the same order as a student protestor in Tiananmen Square? If McLaren really thinks it is much more than that, why doesn’t he qualify the statement more?

The story of Graciela on 277-280 is great. This is the kind of simple, love and good works oriented Christianity that has been practiced from the beginning. It is good that McLaren highlights and promotes it; it is bad for him to assume that it isn’t already being practiced. It also illustrates what McLaren spends lots of the rest of the book denying: that the best kind of social impact is made by individual Christians, not by gaming for systemic societal transformation.

Chapter 33 – Exposing the Covert Curriculum

I don’t know why McLaren is against the term “Christianity” on pages 283-284. It’s fine to talk about the term “The Way” or “disciples” but I don’t see what is wrong about the term “Christianity.”

“I’m suggesting that if we go deep enough, we will realize that Democrats and Republicans, left and right, even ‘terrorists’ and ‘free world’ are generally playing by the same rules and part of the same system – in much the same way as in Jesus’ day, complacent Herodians and Sadducees and activist Pharisees and Zealots were, for all the squabbles, playing within the same system: defining their lives in relation to Caesar.” (285)

Comment: Again, more moral relativism. There is a sense in which McLaren is correct, but a bigger sense in which he is wrong.

The likening to abortion to global warming is misleading. I understand the point, but he compares something with real and definite consequences to something with vague and uncertain consequences.

Overall – in his lefty way – this is simply a chapter about the transforming of the mind (as in Romans 12:1-2). A good chapter.

Chapter 34 – Moving Mountains

“More and more of us see this eschatology of abandonment and despair to be an example of the biblical story being rewritten to aid and abet the dominant system. We believe the vision of the new Jerusalem, like all prophetic visions, seeks to inspire our imaginations with hope about what our world can actually become through the good news of the kingdom of God.” (296)

Comment: A pretty bad dig at those who disagree with McLaren eschatologically. I didn’t know that I came to my eschatology by seeing to “aid and abet the dominant system.” McLaren must know better.

The more McLaren promotes his eschatology, the more it seems unbliblical and wrong.

In the action section, split into personal, community, and public action, McLaren is pretty good. I wonder why he seems so convinced that the church as it is does such a terrible job of what he advocates. More is always better; but McLaren seems like someone who needs to find something to rebel against, so he paints the picture of the present church darker than it really is.

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