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Brian McLaren: Everything Must Change

brian mclaren, everything must change This is a few weeks late. Sorry 'bout that. I received a preview copy a month ago and i should have written something earlier. I have actually been traveling a lot - only 2 days at home in the past few weeks and i didnt feel ready for feedback and questions at the time. But here I am. So . . . instead of writing another review, i just want to throw out a thought or two, and point to some resources that may help some people making sense of the provocative book called Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope by Brian McLaren.

From a literary standpoint,  the book diesels along nicely, steadily building momentum, each chapter linked neatly to the next like a TV serial. It avoids charts [thank God] and the stylistic devices of his earlier books [I never liked Neo] and it reads like Brian sitting next to you having a chat - which I have done with Brian on a few occasions. Dang - he is SUCH AN INCREDIBLE WRITER and gracious person. Which makes it hard to write a somewhat mixed review.

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But mixed it is. There are things that both excite me and frustrate me in this book. One of the frustrating things is having to guess if Brian is committed to what he is saying or just thinking out loud, looking for ideas or road-testing brain fodder for the next book.

From a political and social standpoint, there is much to admire. There is a strong challenge to view Jesus as a revolutionary in his socio-political context and to examine the cosmological vacuum left by a pre-millenial eschatology that was too heavenly minded [some would say 'gnostic']. Brian's research into America's military spending and ecological problems is great, and he comes up with some realistic solutions, framed in terms that are understandable and full of meaning. Its also refreshing to see words in an American religious book such as "slow food" and "fair trade" which may sound quite pedestrian to British and Australian Christians but for some Americans, its a giant leap.

From a theological standpoint, however, I find myself cringing at the extremities of his "conventional view' and 'emerging view' and struggling to see where Brian is going in his understanding of the afterlife. I was disappointed not to see a chapter around the early church of Acts 2 and his eschatology  (view of the last things) had me humming John Lennon's 'Imagine There's No Heaven'.  I would argue, as do others, that an unfiltered liberation theology is too worldly, too immanent, and possibly dangerous. It seems Brian wants to hook up the fundamentalists to the watering hose of contextual theology from Latin America and Africa. Which isn't a bad idea since many of them have never personally dealt with that material, or other theological insights from non-Western countries which offer some balance to our Western views (Dalit theology from India comes to mind). But Brian does not offer the courtesy of road markings or a safety belt. Other teachers quoted in his book, like C. Rene Padilla and John Stott, bring caution with them when adding insights from liberation theology . . . but not Brian!



Maybe he wants his fundamentalist critics to do the sifting themselves?

Maybe he didn't stay long enough in Latin America to hear what else they had to offer?


Or maybe Brian likes to make people think for themselves through issues rather than just having difficult theological topics shrink-wrapped for them on a Sunday morning by an approved Censor?

I think that last one is closer to the truth. Brian has made me think and even go back to reading some of the books on my shelf. And even though Brian's eschatology is different than mine, I still think it is definitely worth buying and reading. And having Brian rebuke the fundamentalists and challenge them to repent is worth the price of the book. I wonder if they will just shake it off and call it "liberal" or come back with an argument?

Hey - I am not going all Ken Sliva on this one and you know I am usually a huge McLaren fan. I was the one who said his chapter in Emergent Manifesto was the best chapter in the book. Although I wasn't really impressed with the Manifesto itself and gave some heavy criticism. OH HECK!!! Maybe I am turning into Ken Flippin Silva! Ma Genoito! [May it never be!] Somebody help me!

Anyway, there are some other books I highly recommend reading alongside to fill in the gaps and perhaps offer an alternative viewpoint.

1. Mission as Transformation: A Theology of the Whole Gospel is by far the best book on this subject that graces my bookshelf. Edited by Indian Vinay Samuel (who has other excellent books) and Chris Sudgen, it contains valuable essays by Howard Snyder, Graham Cray and a fantastic chapter on eschatological views by Pentecostal theologian Peter Kuzmic - whose critique  on premillenialist inadequacies is close to Brian's:
"Premillenialism's underlying philosophy of history has almost inevitable negative consequences for Christian social responsiblity" Peter Kuzmic, 'Eschatology and Ethics: Evangelical Views and Attitudes', Mission as Transformation, page 142.

2. Dr. C. Rene Padilla has excellent balanced writings all over the internet and in books pushing a Latin American evangelical basis for social justice. Find them and read them. Also listen to him at Wheaton, 1987, and in this mp3, talking about business and the Kingdom.

3. Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, by Brian Walsh and his wife Sylvia Keesmaat gives a more balanced treatment to our political stance in the face of empire. The authors see a stronger place for the spiritual forces behind our secular institutions than Brian, which is something I was hoping would come out as Brian channelled thoughts from Africa and Latin America. Not saying this book is in blatant disagreement with Brian, which would be foolish since Brian wrote a favorable recommendation on the cover of Colossians Remixed. But I do feel far more comfortable with this book's outlook and conclusions.

4. The Lausanne Occasional Paper 21 on Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An Evangelical Commitment is about the most sound view of what evangelicals believe on these issues I have come across. And its free.

5. N.T. Wright's The Challenge of Jesus offers similar historical background to Jesus radical ministry, and some themes are repeated, but Wright focuses more on the religious structures than the socio-political-economic and might be more palatable for those who thought issues of justice and responsibility belonged solely to the next life.

And of course Brian's earlier books, The Secret Message of Jesus and Generous Orthodoxy, come recommended as a springboard for these new thoughts of Brian and I suppose if i had read these books then I would have a better understanding of what Brian is trying to say.

Anyway - Brian, we still LOVE you and know you have been gifted with the full five talents for a reason. Keep listening and keep writing.

Other Bloggers:
SoulGardeners has a review from South Africa,
Blind Beggar has the videos,
Wittenburg Door has an interview.
Tim Challies lays out the argument of the book in a detailed manner but he confuses liberation theology with liberal theology (not the same) and confuses Brian's view of eschatology with the emerging church view of eschatology (I really don't think there is one).
Scot McKnight is offering a guided tour through this book. You will have to dig for the posts because Scot, green-horned blogger as he is [he he], has not yet made a list of links. But here is Part 5,  Part 6 and this one has some numbers and quotes worth discussing.
Helen is also mixed, but positive.

Brian's book came out today. Its called Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. I got a review copy a few weeks ago but have been meditating on the book before I talk about it. Tell you more tomorrow.

The Blog Post of Brian McLaren
McLaren on Larry King Live
Brian on Wikipedia