Those of us who have been keeping a wary eye on the Emerging Church know that to understand the movement we must understand Brian McLaren. Though it is not quite fair to label him the movement's leader, he certainly functions as its elder statesman and his writing seems to serve as a guide or compass for the movement. Where he leads, others follow. And so it is with interest that I turned to <em>Everything Must Change</em>. This book is shaped by two preoccupying questions: what are the biggest problems in the world and what does Jesus have to say about these global problems? They are valid questions and probably questions to which Christians should devote more attention. In this book McLaren address them head-on.
According to McLaren, we live in a societal system consisting of three subsystems: the prosperity, equity and security systems. These are all guided by a framing narrative. The world was made in such a way that these should function in perfect harmony as they are guided by God's framing story, but unfortunately they have become misaligned so they no longer function as they should. When the framing narrative is destructive, this system can go suicidal, ultimately self-destructing. This is society as we know it now--a society that is completely suicidal. And this is the problem Jesus came to address. Having thought long and hard about the world's problems, McLaren says this: "Our plethora of critical global problems can be traced to four deep dysfunctions, the fourth of which is the lynchpin or leverage point through which we can reverse the first three." These three crises are linked in a very tightly integrated system that functions as this "suicide machine."
Jesus, says McLaren, stepped into this dysfunctional system and proposed an alternative in both word and deed. Jesus' solution was to confront society's suicide machine, to redraw and reshape the framing narratives by proposing a radical alternative. He says Jesus' message, His good news, is this: "The time has come! Rethink everything! A radically new kind of empire is available--the empire of God has arrived! Believe this good news, and defect from all human imperial narratives, counternarratives, dual narratives, and withdrawal narratives. Open your minds and hearts like children to see things freshly in this new way, follow me and my words, and enter this new way of living." Jesus took that message to the cross, an instrument of torture and cruelty that He used "to expose the cruelty and injustice of those in power and instill hope and confidence in the oppressed."
McLaren's utter disdain for Protestant theology is evident throughout, but perhaps nowhere so clearly as in his rendition of Mary's Magnificat, rewritten in such a way, he says, that it can now be consistent with traditional theology.
"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my personal Savior, for he has been mindful of the correct saving faith of his servant. My spirit will go to heaven when my body dies for the Mighty One has provided forgiveness, assurance, and eternal security for me--holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who have correct saving faith and orthodox articulations of belief, from generation to generation. He will overcome the damning effects of original sin with his mighty arm; he will damn to hell those who believe they can be saved through their own efforts or through any religion other than the new one He is about to form. He will condemn followers of other religions to hell but bring to heaven those with correct belief. He has filled correct believers with spiritual blessings but will send those who are not elect to hell forever. He has helped those with correct doctrinal understanding, remembering to be merciful to those who believe in the correct theories of atonement, just as our preferred theologians through history have articulated."
But the Bible, he says, teaches none of this. Rather, "Mary celebrates that God is going to upset the dominance hierarchies typical of empire so that the nation of Israel can experience the fulfillment of its original promise."
After reframing Jesus and His message, McLaren reintroduces Him through a new lens. This Jesus, as we might expect, is radically different from the one Protestants have known and honored and radically different from the Jesus of the Bible. McLaren continues to systematically dismantle Christian doctrine. "With no apologies to Martin Luther, John Calvin, or modern evangelicalism, Jesus (in Luke 16:9) 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--literally or figurative--is for the rich and comfortable who proceed on their way without concern for their poor neighbor day after day." Jesus "calls them to grow their good deeds portfolios for the common good, especially the good of the poor and marginalized."
McLaren seems particular incensed with the biblical concepts of heaven, hell and atonement. Rather than being eternal realities, heaven and hell become states we create on this earth as we pursue or deny the kingdom of God. Because Jesus' message is not one of sinful men becoming reconciled to a holy God through an atoning sacrifice, those of any creed can seek and participate in the kingdom. People of other creeds may well be participating in it more fully and more purely than ones who claim to be Christians. Men and women of all creeds can be followers of Jesus living out the kingdom of God even if they have never heard His name.
With this book McLaren further draws a line in the sand between traditional Protestant beliefs and the Emerging Church. He declares, increasingly unequivocally, that this Emerging Church bears little resemblance to the church as we know it. This book is, in my opinion, McLaren's first real attempt to reconstruct the "Christian" theology that he has dismantled in his previous books. But what he has rebuilt bears little resemblance to the Christianity of the Bible.