207. awful title, great book
I’m reading this amazing book by Brian McLaren called, The Secret Message of Jesus. And I hate the title because it sounds mystical and Gnostic and along the lines of The Da Vinci Code, but it’s not that. It’s quite the opposite, in fact, because what McLaren is trying to do is to strip away all the baggage that church culture has piled on top of the message of Jesus. McLaren accomplishes this by reinvestigating the message that Jesus came to bring by going back into first century Israel and trying to understand what it was that the Jews heard when they listened to Jesus speak. For example, when they heard the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” they heard something very different from the way we hear it today.
It’s a fascinating and exciting read and I can’t wait to finish the book so I can go back to the beginning and read it again – it’s that good. But it’s also a bit frustrating because McLaren never really spells out what the “secret message of Jesus” is, at least not in so many words. But this is intentional because what I think McLaren is getting at, is that the message that Jesus came to bring is not one that simply says, “do X, Y, and Z.” Rather, it is a radically new way of living that is holistic, comprehensive, and all encompassing. And I know there are some Christians who bristle at what I’m about to write, but the Gospel isn’t black and white.
The elusive nature of the core message of the Gospel can be frustrating, and I wonder if this frustration comes out of our quick-fire, sound bite society. We want the gospel to fit into three or four spiritual bullet points that we can print out on tracts which we can pass on to our friends. Or perhaps the frustration comes out of the Gospel’s resistance to our modernist tendency to want to break things down and define them. But just as scientists working at the bleeding edge of physics are running into the limits of observable phenomenon (at subatomic levels, the very act of measuring, recording, or observing an event can change the outcome of the experiment), maybe some theologians’ quest to deconstruct the gospel and define it’s individual parts has also reached its limits.
And I don’t mean to minimize the importance of theology and orthodoxy because theology can be compared to the grammatical rules that undergird a language. Rigorous study by gifted scholars of God’s word keeps us from descending into heretical nonsense. But, on the other hand, a comprehensive understanding of the grammatical rules of Japanese won’t do you a bit of good if you’re lost in some Japanese village and need to use the bathroom. And even if you know enough of the language to function in their society, you’d still be lacking the familiarity and mastery needed to appreciate their poetry.
What I’m trying to get at is the idea that I’m tired of just knowing rules and structure (although I am glad I got some training in that area in the past). I want to get at the poetry of Christianity, to appreciate the beauty of its architecture in addition to the genius of its framing. But I’m not just trying to expand my own knowledge base for the sake of knowing more. I’m after an understanding of Christianity that’s big enough to point towards a just society, to teach us how to bring reconciliation into an increasingly fragmented world, to be about peacemaking rather than peacekeeping, to be about appreciating and preserving the beauty and the natural resources of the earth.
McLaren’s books speaks to all of these ideas with fresh, vibrant, sometimes surprising insight. And I can’t wait to get more of a handle on the ideas in the book so I can start blogging about them. More than that, I’m hoping to finally have an understanding of Christianity that I want to share with my non-christian friends.
“You mean to say that you don’t witness to your friends? What, are you ashamed of the Gospel?”
No, I don’t mean that at all.
“So why this reluctance to talk about Jesus?”
I’ll get to that in another blog.