Must Everything Change? 18

Must Everything Change? 18 November 9, 2007

Here are some of my own responses to Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change.

Before anything else this must be said: what Brian is doing in this book is examining a question evangelicalism simply hasn’t considered for nearly a century. Here’s the question: What is the gospel? More particularly for this book: What is the gospel Jesus preached? Now I have worked on this issue myself, in both Embracing Grace and now in A Community called Atonement, and what I’m finding is that this book of Brian’s challenges us to rethink this question seriously. I hope more will do that because of this book. Let me put it another way: If Jesus’ gospel is the “kingdom,” what was the problem?
1. This is Brian’s most important book — ever since he wrote A New Kind of Christian we have been waiting for him to “come clean” with a theology of his own vision of Christianity. We got some of it in Generous Orthodoxy and then The Secret Message of Jesus made us wonder where he might be going. This book defines Brian’s journey.
2. This book needs to be seen as a definitive book for emergent and from now on no one can speak responsibly about emergent without knowing this book. As you know, I am keen on using “emerging” for the larger movement and “emergent” for the think tank facilitated by Emergent Village. This book, so it seems to me, while not speaking for anyone but Brian, will be definitive for the emergent dimension of the emerging movement.
3. The salient and most important feature of this book is a potent and searching summons for each of us to examine the “framing stories” we live by. Whether you like this book or not, this feature of the book is for me the highlight and needs to be absorbed. We all live by framing stories — which framing story do we live by? One might even say that Brian’s theology is a theology of framing-stories. His framing story in this book is Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of God.
4. The fundamental crises of our time — equity, prosperity, security, and spirituality — are accurate. Some might say these differently; some might prefer other terms; no one I suppose would contest that these are crises of our global situation. Anything that addresses these concerns is worth serious attention.
5. And asking what Jesus would say to these issues is the right question — and again, even if we differ with Brian, this is the way to address the issue. We find such and such as a problem today — how does Jesus’ vision of the kingdom address such a problem?
I have the following questions for this book, and I have been in communication with Brian over this week about this review:
First, I keep coming back to this — and it is leading to my next biblical series on this blog (after Colossians Remixed) — what does Brian mean by “kingdom of God”? I have occasionally said on this blog and in public that in Secret Message Brian defines “kingdom of God” as an interactive relationship with God and with others, and I have said that such a view was not enough. Clearly he uses those words at times to define kingdom, but a more careful reading — which I spent some time this week doing — leads me to what I think is a more nuanced view (on my part) of Brian’s understanding of kingdom: it is an undefinable tensive symbol, or an undefinable word-game that is used by Jesus to suggest a variety of redemptive truths and I think Brian does not ordinarily define “kingdom of God” because he wants to use it in the same evocative way Jesus did.
In this new book he gets closer to a definition by reframing it in more social/society/community terms and he continues to use the expression in an expansive and intentionally intriguing way than a formulaic way. I can live with this, but I’d like to see a section devoted to the Gospels’ evidence where all of this is wrestled with.
Second, I keep asking myself what role the church plays in this revolution of hope. Is the church the kingdom? is the church swallowed up by the kingdom? is the church left behind by the kingdom? is the work of God the kingdom on earth and the church only a small part of that kingdom? I don’t expect anyone to put all of their theology on display all the time — so I can live with his current emphasis on kingdom. But the kingdom/church issue keeps coming back to me.
Third, I have drunk deeply since the 70s from Ron Sider. Sider’s proposals, if you know them, are more concrete — I’d like to see some concrete proposals for how we are to live out this revolution of hope. The big ideas he presents, of course, are primary … and we can work out some implications for ourselves.
Fourth, while I’m no economist, most of what I hear (and not just in this book) about Jesus’ economical vision is either utopian or insufficiently real. Let us assume that we are to work to help the poor, even hoping we can end poverty. The question I think we need to ask, and one that I don’t think Brian asks sufficiently, is what is the best way to resolve the poverty question? A theory of how economies work is inherent to all of this and it deserves very careful sorting out. On this blog, as many of you know, Michael Kruse has offered comments that are stimulating in this regard — again whether we agree with him or not. Now, a further point and this has little to do with Brian or Ron Sider or Michael Kruse. I think many of us have some pretty good ideas about the substance of Jesus’ concerns with the poor. Few of us, I am suggesting, have thought about such substance in terms of a theory of economics in our world. These global crisis issues are big and thinking through them theoretically is vital for each of us.
Fifth, I agree that we are to begin with Jesus. But where’s Paul? Where’s Peter and Hebrews? etc. And this question keeps coming to me as I work on the social vision of Jesus myself: Did Paul understand Jesus’ message of the kingdom the way Brian understands it? Are we in danger of not only beginning with Jesus but of fashioning a Jesus who was not the one Paul and Peter and Hebrews and John believed in? Is what Paul says in Romans compatible with the peaceful kingdom Brian sees in Jesus? Of course, Brian can’t be expected to get into each author … so we can wait to see what he has to say about Paul in print.
Now here’s my final point: Brian is facing big, big issues. This book is a proposal for Christians to take up the challenge of Jesus and turn toward those issues. There are no books quite like this and for that reason alone it deserves to be read by all of us.

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  • Dan

    I’ll get a copy and give it a read…

  • thanks Scot. Great job on this protracted journey. I share many of the same concerns as you, esp. the church issue, and also the same desire for people to interact with his book. The issues are vital – justice, equity, etc. I hope the church can figure out how to arrive at a place of missional action without necessarily abandoning their various views of the last things.

  • Scot, this has been a fascinating discussion. There are so many perspectives on questions of critical importance to both my witness and to my identity as a follower of Jesus. on the scholarly front as to where the evidence from the NT leads us, I eagerly await more results from your own probings into the issues.
    The challenge is to think both of the whole world picture as well as to what is going on right around us in our neighborhoods and homes. This is a big ask but again of great importance.
    From a ‘third world’ perspective where we still have a bit of leeway in shaping what our nations are going to become. We do need to be able to see things more clearly from the perspective of a more self-conscious discipleship in the developed world. It is always true that wherever we are, the gospel and our Lord will continue to challenge.

  • Great review
    and stirring question about the place of the church in the kingdom of God
    i guess for many people like me there has been a unspoken insinuation that the two were the same which for me and probably many others left us feeling let down by the kingdom
    i can’t remember where i read but i did read someone commenting on what paul was saying in ephesians 6, that paul saw the church as the advancing front line of the Kingdom of God, similar to the roman legion’s testudo formation the place of change and challenge to the kingdom of darkness almost like an arrow head or pointed sword thrust into the body of the enemy, where the love or god his peace and healing infaltrated this world and brought change.
    can’t wait for the series on the kingdom
    bring it on

  • jonathan

    Where are Paul, or Peter or the others in explaining the kingdom? Thats a good question and one i have begun to ask also as well reading some of B. Mclaren’s books. I still cant really make the connection with Jesus’ kingdom message and how it developed in the other new testament writings (not that i see a break but its something that ive been craking my head on). Great review.

  • WOW! What a ride! Thanks Scot; thanks to all of you, for letting me into a place that felt so out of my league and yet felt so welcome. Coming from my Old Order Amish past to the fringe of emergent/postmodern thinking is quite a stretch. Thanks for letting me learn, glean and hopefully grow with each of you. Thanks, for the things that have, and hopefully will continue to change in my life.
    My personal take: EMC left me, alternately gathering gold and fleeing chaff. I am unable to reconcile with where the book seems to go in the applications phase of each idea presented. In its simplest form, it feels like Brian suggests changing the kingdoms of the world by diluting them with the kingdom of God. It feels like we are using “hands” to build within the world’s kingdoms instead of being part of the ever-growing rock that smites the image at its feet. As so many of you have already expressed, it is hard to understand ‘kingdom’ from Brian’s viewpoint.
    It is true; the church has changed, is changing, and always will change the world around us. However this change is peripheral to the change he creates within the community of the redeemed. It is hands-full of grain left intentionally lying at the edge of the field where the world may glean if it chooses. I am a new son of the new kingdom I partake of the New Testament in His Body. I am changed by His word; leavened by a new yeast; I am given graciously, ‘my daily bread.’ He sends his Holy Spirit to us; and yes, there are crumbs, there are seven baskets of leftovers; let the dogs have them. His word is sent to us and not to them. We are the people where everything must change. We are the church, the community, the Kingdom of God. Let his word dwell in us richly; let the changes begin.

  • Ted

    Scot said, “I agree that we are to begin with Jesus. But where’s Paul? Where’s Peter and Hebrews? etc.”
    I think this is the key paragraph to your review. If Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, then it was Paul and Peter, followed by the other Apostles, who FIRST APPLIED that message, or else they entirely missed it. In turn, a study on the Kingdom of God begs for consideration of how those who saw Jesus face-to-face understood his message post-Pentecost and sought to apply that message. It’ll be very interesting to see whether or not Brian looks beyond Jesus–that will tell us much about how he “frames” his theology.
    Also, if we begin with Jesus, we eventually must go to the Old Testament because this is Jesus’ source book for kingdom ethics. Here, books like Christopher Wright’s, “Old Testament Ethics for the People of God” (2004, IVP), might help us.
    Begin with Jesus? Yes. But don’t neglect looking back (OT) or looking forward (Paul, Peter, etc.).

  • Brad Cooper

    I’ve been waffling back and forth on whether to buy this book. The summaries have been very helpful and provocative and the discussions that have followed have been excellent. But I think you are right: I need to read the book. Thanks, Scot.

  • T

    jonathan (6),
    “Where are Paul, or Peter or the others in explaining the kingdom?”
    Are you asking this of Brian’s books or of the epistles(or both)? If you’re asking includes the epistles, I know what you mean. I spent years with that question.
    On the chance that you were asking this question of the bible as well as Brian, I was going to recommend a (legitimate) rethinking of the word “Christ.” N.T. Wright was the first that helped me see how Paul or any Jew always had ideas of “kingdom” in mind when hearing or using the term “Christ”. “Christ” was, for Jews, the messianic title for the annointed (christ-ened) king of the kingdom. If you read the epistles and hear “kingdom” overtones/references every time you read “Christ” (or “Lord” for that matter), the epistles become very kingdom minded indeed. It is difficult to overstate how strong the Christ-kingdom connection was for first-century Jews. One is the head, the focal point, of the other.

  • T, #9 Indeed, Jesus “Christ” is always Jesus the Messiah. Similarly I always assume (perhaps fatuously) that Paul and all the apostles had Jesus’s words and actions as the basis and substance of the gospel that they preached and taught. I also think it’s a fair guess that the sayings and gospel traditions, was not only the heart of the ministry of the Word, but also of the kerygma and of the catechism for all new believers.
    I am sure that by immersing myself in Jesus’s teachings (that is our 4 ‘Gospels’) that I have a much better chance of catching what Paul or any other epistle writer says and means.

  • jonathan

    In a sense im asking of both, but then mostly of what brian is writing of. Ive also found NT Wright’s writing helpful as you said. in fact it was Wright that shed some light in what kingdom means. Thanks for the helpful explanation that you gave… ‘Christ’ being overtones to kingdom. I’ll try towr through that for now. Thanks again!

  • Mickey

    Regarding economics and the kingdom, I think a series of articles By John Evans are well thought out and written with authority. is the first of 6

  • Scott Watson

    I was readinf 2 Corinthians this morning when talks about the collection for the church in Jerusalem,to motivate them to cary this out.Paul speaks of an equality of sharing in material resources as they do with spiritual ones.They were to share so that others had “enough” so that if they were impoverished,other believers would do the same for them.Their prayer is to be that God would grant them to have “enough” in substance for life for themselves but “abundance” to share with others. Paul links this with Jesus’ kenoticlife in which he divests himself of his riches to enrich us.
    The cross is squarely at the center of Paul’s discussion here,and it congruent with spirit of the sharing of the Jerusalem church after Pentecost, which most scholrs chalk up to be idealistic or “fabulated.” This is not in line with a lot of Christian reflection on economics which revolves around self-interest and what flows from that in Capitalist free market fashion not,for that part,that of the social and economic realities of late Greco-Roman antiquity.

  • Robin Rhea

    regarding economics and the poor, I would recommend two books, “The End of Poverty” by Jeff Sachs and “White Man’s Burden” by William Easterly. Both discuss poverty in the context of ehlping poor nations become self-sufficient, not helping poor citizens in a wealthy society, and both have extremely different takes.

  • Brad Cooper

    I just found this online article from Christianity Today that speaks to some of the issues we have been talking about–particularly innovative ways to help the poor become more affluent:
    (I’m not sure how to put this in as a direct link, so just copy and past the address above into your browsers address bar.)

  • Brad Cooper

    Looks like it automatically converts it to a link. Learn something new every day! 🙂

  • Brad Cooper

    Here’s a link to another great online article from CT that also relates quite directly to a lot of things that Michael Kruse has been teaching us about helping the poor to gain affluence.

  • I can’t wait to get the book. I am an avid reader and listener to Brian. I have a great deal of respect for his journey and his thoughtful nuanced read of Jesus.
    I thought I might mention my thoughts on the Kingdom and the church. Many of my thoughts come from listening to Brian, Matthew Dye, Rob Bell and Erwin McManus. The idea that the church can bring about the Kingdom is mismatch of the small”c” church and the Capital “C” Church that Jesus was talking about. The church can not bring about the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven, but the numerous churches working together to be come the Church can certainly bring the hope and change that Jesus was talking about. I believe that I review of the Old Testament and New Testament will bear this out. We are all the Church whether we are sitting in a church or at our desk at work.

  • Scot, thanks for this wonderful series of posts on Brian’s book. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to interact with the book in a community. At some point I expect to do a review of this book at my site. I’m still processing.
    You wrote:
    “Few of us, I am suggesting, have thought about such substance in terms of a theory of economics in our world. These global crisis issues are big and thinking through them theoretically is vital for each of us.”
    If all I’ve done is challenge people to think about the complexity involved and to re-examine what a biblical anthropology looks like, then I will consider my rather lengthy (and occasionally snarky) comments on these threads time well spent. I’d encourage others to read the book (but agree with me!) 🙂

  • Brad #15, 17
    Thanks for the article links. I love stories like these!

  • Brad Cooper

    Found this great quote in the article linked to at #17:
    “Serving the poor is an act of worship. Every time you serve the poor, you express your love for Jesus.”
    – Mark Lutz, marketing executive for Opportunity International
    I love that!
    Michael #20, No problem. I’m glad I came across them. Great stuff! 🙂

  • Sage H.

    Thank you Scot, and all others who “walked through” the reading of this book together. I appreciate it very much.

  • Everything Must Change « empire / state / building

    […] Monday, November 12th, 2007 in Uncategorized Scot McKnight has offered up a great teaser for Brian McLaren’s latest over at Jesus Creed. As someone who can say they have been transformed by this book, I concur with McKnight and encourage anyone who claims to have any affiliation with Emergent to make sure that they read it. […]

  • tim atwater

    good review. ok i too will get the book.
    Re development of more detailed economics of the gospel — once again i ask that any who attempt this give chapter and verse biblical basis for wherever, whatever direction we’re going…
    At least trace economic theology to biblical themes and cite where there’s deep resonance, where dissonance…?
    I haven’t seen this done much from anywhere on the spectrum, except from the margins — Jacques Ellul, Dorothy Day, the Amish and some other Anabaptists, Gandhi (who did link more consistently to the gospels, chapter and verse, in his thinking than most Christians i know… )
    i do believe the economics of Jesus and Paul and all the bible (when we’re doing it right) end up on the far-end of ‘utopian’ — but maybe (by chapter and verse) i can be proven wrong on this?
    grace and peace,

  • Everything Must Change « charlieDEAN’S Blog

    […] Everything Must Change November 18, 2007 On the Jesus Creed blog, Scot McKnight finished his series on McLaren’s book with a review of sorts…he believes that this book, next to A New Kind of Christian, is Brian’s most important work. I tend to agree. (link) […]