My first impressions of Brian McLaren’s book, The Secret Message of Jesus, were dead wrong. In fact, I must confess that I made some assumptions about where he was headed. Those assumptions tainted my reading of the first portion of the book, because I drew his conclusion before he did. As I previously wrote, I thought the title and initial portion of the book seemed pretentious. However, “the secret message of Jesus” is simply another way of describing the Gospel. I’m glad I pressed on to the finish––it was well worth it. Before I get into a summary of the book, here are a few general observations:
Throughout the book, I got the feeling that McLaren was reacting to something, but I spent a third of the way through trying to figure out what message he was responding to. The only definitive answer to that is “religious broadcasting,” which he specifically mentions as one of the culprits in spreading an inaccurate picture of Jesus’ message. My best guess is that he is also responding to Christian “pop theology” and your basic run-of-the-mill Christian fundamentalism. There were some points in the book where he went to unnecessary effort to point these things out. I doubt that there are any significant numbers from that crowd who are reading this book, so I felt that it was a waste of time.
Fortunately, his cynicism about their message led him to look at the Bible in its historical context. The view he gives into the stories which surrounded the writing of Scripture is what I appreciate most about McLaren’s book. There’s more to understanding the Bible than just the historical background, but it is an area that has been often overlooked in popular Christian theology.
For example, he discusses the idea that the book of Revelation is not primarily a book about specific future events, but is a book about the challenges of the immediate present. The early church was under heavy persecution from the Roman government, and needed a message of hope; hope that the reality of God’s kingdom was the source of their confidence and joy, even when facing death. John’s Revelation provided that hope for them and gives every generation a beautiful picture of God’s ultimate victory over any evil “principalities and powers.”
Because I already agreed with a lot of what he wrote, McLaren’s interpretation of the gospel didn’t feel as ground-breaking to me as it seemed to be to him but I was thankful for the way he articulated it with Scriptural and historical support. It helped me clarify some questions I had about how the message of Jesus was meant for first and twenty-first century people.
(Part 2 of 3 coming on Friday…)