MclSecr 06-6-75  


Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything


Brian D. McLaren

W. Publishing Group, 2006, 240 pp.  ISBN 0-8499-9143-9


McLaren is the author of ten widely read books on contemporary Christianity and a leader of the emergent church movement.  He seems to write primarily for those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious, or who perhaps look with jaundiced eye at religious institutions and practice.  Has the church misunderstood or distorted Jesus’ core message?  Have we domesticated his stories?  Looking through the eyes of Jewish culture, McLaren shares his insight that Jesus’ goal was not mental enlightenment but personal transformation.


“The portrait of Jesus I found in the New Testament didn’t fit with the image of Christianity projected by religious institutions, charismatic televangelists, religious spokespeople in the media—and sometimes, my own preaching.” (5)


“But seeking to believe what is true—seeking to see things as closely as possible to the way they really are, seeking to be faithful to what is and was and will be—puts you increasingly in touch with reality and helps you become a wise and good person.” (6) “Having truer beliefs—beliefs more aligned with reality—makes all the difference. (7)


“In my religious upbringing, I was not taught the public and political dimensions of Jesus’ message—only the personal, private dimensions.”  “But Jesus’ idea that God loves my nations’ enemies, and so our foreign policies should reflect that love—that idea never crossed my mind.” (110)


“…my ‘interpretive grid’…helped me see some things and blinded me to or diverted me from others.” (11)


Jesus followed in the line of the prophets.  “Like many of the prophets, Jesus spoke on behalf of the poor, the forgotten, the rejected, and the outcasts.”  “Jesus emphasized the inward sincerity of the heart and not mere outward conformity.” “Jesus spoke of coming judgment on injustice and hypocrisy.  For the ancient prophets judgment didn’t mean that people would be thrown into hell.  Rather, it meant that their evil would be exposed and named, and they would suffer consequences of their evil in history, in this life.”  “Jesus echoed and intensified the prophetic message that a new world order was possible and coming...a new kingdom.”  “He says the kingdom is at hand, available to be grasped, knocking at the door—not just someday in the future, but here and now.  Here and now!” (22-24)


“Jesus’ proclamation threatens the status quo, something that would perhaps appeal to the poor and oppressed, but would inspire something less than enthusiasm among the well-to-do and powerful fro whom the status quo was a nice arrangement.” (25)


“The message of Jesus may well be called the most revolutionary of all time.” (32)


“The revolutionary image of Jesus didn’t come to me in adult church either.  There, Jesus was someone whose main job was to die so my sins could be forgiven and I could go to heaven (no small thing of course!), of great value ‘in my heart’ and outside of this world and history, but not terribly important as a public, historical, present factor in relation to the status quo and the powers that be.” (33)


“Jesus’ style wasn’t typically religious.” (35)  “In conversation after conversation, then, Jesus resists being clear or direct.  There’s hardly ever a question that he simply answer; instead, his answer comes in the form of a question, or it turns into a story, or it is full of metaphors that invite more questions.  What’s going on?” (39)


The heart of Jesus’ teaching comes in the form of parables.  (43)  Parables “hide the truth so that we need to…invest ourselves in an imaginative search for meaning—a meaning that will surprise us when we discover (…or unhide) it for ourselves.”  “Parables entice their hearers into new territory…[into] an interactive relationship….” (45)


“Parables have a capacity that goes beyond informing their hearers; parables also have the power to help transform them into interactive, interdependent, humble, inquisitive, and persistent people.”  “In other words, a parable renders its hearers not as experts, not as know-it-alls, not as scholars…but as children.” (46)


Parables bring some to childlike, humble rethinking while exposing the arrogance, anger, impatience, and ugliness of the self-satisfied. (47)


“Nobody can be forced.  They can be invited, attracted, intrigued, enticed, and challenged—but not forced.  And that, perhaps, is the greatest genius of a parable: it doesn’t grab you by the lapels and scream in your face….  Rather, it works gently, subtly, indirectly.  It respects your dignity.  It doesn’t batter you into submission but leaves you free to discover and choose for yourself.” (48)


In the worldview of Jesus’ day, the universe was considered less like a machine (the current prevailing worldview) and more like a community, like a kingdom.  “It’s a universe in interactive relationship with God.” (52-3)


“I firmly believe that God is interactive, engaged, alive, and participating in our world, and I believe that we experience—sometimes often and sometimes seldom, sometimes dramatically and sometimes subtly—touches of God’s grace.  These are significant—they are signs to us of God and God’s activity.” (44)


“…what I believe the signs and wonders of Jesus are secretly telling us: that God, the good King, is present—working from the inside.” (60)


“We are under a gentle, compassionate assault by a kingdom of peace and healing and forgiveness and life.” (60)


“Jesus’ signs and wonders of demonic deliverance seem to signify that very real and dangerous forces of evil lurk and work in our world….” (64)


His secret message: “A new force, a new spirit is in the world—not a demonic spirit, but the Holy Spirit.”  “This new Spirit is entering people and forming them into a healthy, creative, and new kind of community or society—the kingdom of God.” (66)


“Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God scandalizes by showing the weakness of the apparently powerful and the power of the apparently weak.” (68)  The paradox: “…the only way the kingdom of God can be strong in a truly liberating way is through a scandalous, noncoercive kind of weakness; the  only way it can be powerful is through astonishing vulnerability; the only way it can live is by dying; ….”  “And the reconciling movement resonating out from Christ’s life, teaching, death, and resurrection is what we mean by the kingdom of God.” (70-71)


“The four Gospel accounts…share a common conclusion: after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Jesus sends his disciples into the world with a mission.” (Mt 28:19-20; Mark 17:15; Luke 24:49; Acts 18:8; John 20:21) (72)  “You must cross every border and boundary to share with all people everywhere the secret you’ve learned from me—the way, the truth, the life you’ve experienced walking with me.” “That last proviso—that the disciples spread their message globally—was more radical than we may realize.”  “It was quite novel to proclaim one universal God….” (73)


“…the primal calling of the primal Jew, Abraham, had implicit global dimensions: ‘I will bless you and make you a great nation, and all nations of the world will be blessed through you’ (see Genesis 12:2-3).  The resonance between those words and Jesus’ commission to ‘make disciples of all nations is unmistakable.”  “The prophets and poets who arose unpredictably through Jewish history frequently reminded the people of their global calling and rebuked them for their parochial exclusivism.” (74)


“Jesus was master of making the music of life….  He invited the disciples to learn to make beautiful life-music in his secret, revolutionary kingdom-of-God way.” (77) 


“Called together to learn and practice, sent out to practice, play, and teach—that is the life of a disciple and apostle, and that’s what Jesus’ commission his band of disciples to be and do around the world.”  “The story of the kingdom is the story of this band of life-musicians over the last two thousand years.” (78)


“We have been preoccupied with guilt and money, power and fear, control and status—not with service and love, justice and mercy, humility and hope.” (79)


“In spite of our many failures, the secret is getting out!”  (80)


“It was the most religious who seemed to get the secret message of Jesus the least, and the least religious who seemed to get it the most.” (81)


“This idea—that the kingdom of God is about our daily lives, about our way of life—may lie behind the tension people feel between the words religious and spiritual. Perhaps the word religious has come for some people to mean ‘believing in God but not the kingdom of God.’”  (83)


“What would happen if you saw your job as one component—large or small, enjoyable or depressing—of your larger, deeper, gander calling as a participant in the kingdom of God?” (87)


“‘The kingdom of God is at hand.’ That was Jesus’ message.” (91)


“Jesus’ secret message in word and deed makes clear that the kingdom of God will be radically, scandalously inclusive.” (94) 


“This secret message—Christ the King in and among us here and now—invites us into a reconciled and reconciling movement and expanding network of relationships.”  (101, paraphrasing Paul)


“…the secret message of Jesus is meant not just to be heard or read but to be seen in human lives, in radically inclusive reconciling communities, written not on pages in a book but in the lives and hearts of friends.” (102)  “It means rethinking everything in light of the secret message. …this profound rethinking is what the repent means.  It means that you begin looking at every facet of your life again in this new light….” (105)


“One of the most transforming things that can happen to any of us is to have a moment…where we realize that in spite of all our sincerity and drive, we’re closing in on the wrong goal.  And even better, to find out that our worst failure has been swallowed up in someone else’s save.  That’s repentance.”  “Once one begins repenting, it becomes a way of life.” (108)


Faith. “It’s not simply believing this or that about God; it’s believing in God, or perhaps simply believing God with the kind of interpersonal confidence one has when saying, ‘I believe in my spouse.’” (108)


“But how do you measure faith? Jesus answered this as well: if you say you believe in his message, but you don’t seek to practice it, your faith is a matter of words only; it’s not substantial, not real.  Faith that counts, then, is not the absence of doubt; it’s the presence of action.” (109)


Faith is also receptivity, receiving something, not just one thing but everything really – God’ Spirit.  Faith also involves going public with your repentance, faith, and receptivity. And it involves learning to “follow Jesus every day over the whole course of your life.”  “You are now launching out on a new way of life…centered on the practice of Jesus’ message.”  “You develop your skill through applying yourself to practices (or disciplines).” (110-11)


Part III of the book includes chapters on how the message changes everything, how it is to work out in practice.  The author discusses ethics, communicating the new kingdom, striving for peace, the relationship of all kinds of people to the kingdom, the future of the kingdom (eschatology), and additional matters.  I have few notes on these chapters.


“His followers are not simply normal people with a certain religious preference.  No, they are radical participants in a high-commitment endeavor….” (120)


“Money, it turns out, is a cruel taskmaster; when you serve money, soon you will resent God for interfering with your humming, expanding economic kingdom.  Similarly, if you serve God, you will soon resent wealth for its constant guerilla warfare, its subtle invasion of every sector of life, its relentless conquest of life’s nonmaterial values.  You have to choose.” (133)


“The kingdom of God, then, is a revolutionary, counter-cultural movement—proclaiming a ceaseless rebellion against the tyrannical trinity of money, sex, and power.” (134)


“The call to faith is the all to trust God and God’s dreams enough to realign our dreams with God’s, to dream our little dreams within God’s big dram.” (142)


“For many people these days, to mix a political term like kingdom with a religious term like God sounds…scary, even terrorizing.”  But “the kingdom that Jesus portrays exercises its power not in redemptive violence but in courageous, self-giving love, and its goal is not victory on its own terms but rather peace on God’s terms.  That peace means far more than an end to conflict; it evokes a balanced and integrated ‘life to the full.”  (150)


“The heroes of the early church were not Crusaders, not warriors, not men of the sword but rather martyrs, men and women with the faith and courage to face lion, ax, cross, chain, whip, and fire as testimony to their allegiance…to the standards of the kingdom of God.” (153)


“In times of conflict, whenever we are tempted to label someone as ‘enemy’ or ‘evil,’ we must remember Jesus’ climactic words in his kingdom manifesto—that enemies are to be loved.” (155)


We must realize that “he same evils are at work in both ‘them’ and ‘us,’ and therefore pose a common, universal enemy…that the kingdom of God fights with its weapons ‘not of this world.’” (156)


“Rejection hardens people, but acceptance makes transformation possible.  By accepting and welcoming people into his presence, just as they were…he could challenge them to … consider becoming part of the kingdom of God so they could experience and participate in the transformation….”  “The kingdom of God is available to all, beginning with the least.” (163)


“Te Christian religion is too often perceived as a divisive, judgmental, rancorous, and exclusionary movement—nearly the opposite of a kingdom of peace, available to all, beginning with the least.” (163)


“The kingdom’s purpose is to gather, to include, to welcome everyone who is willing (children, prostitutes, tax collectors) into reconciliation with God and one another….” (168)


“The kingdom of God isn’t just a status; it’s a mission and a story in which they—and we—can play a part.” (171)


The final section of the book includes suggestions for small groups to study the book, study the Gospels, and take steps to apply what they are learning. 


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