I’m curious if any of you have read “The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the truth that could change everything” by Brian McLaren, and/ or “The lost message of Jesus” by Steve Chalke.
If anyone has, I’d appreciate your comments and feedback on them. One of my “conservative evangelical” cronies described them as books attempting to relate some “new revelation” that boiled down to what he referred to as “basically old heresy”. The reviews I’ve read have indicated that they are probably neither, so I’m curious.
My local library has McLaren’s book (that is currently out), but I have to wait until the 14th to check it out.
Yeah, I actually have the Chalke book–it’s been sitting on my shelf for 3 years or so, and I think I’m actually going to sit down and read it now that I recently finished the McLaren book!
McLaren’s book is a pretty good intro to the idea that Jesus’ message was based on the Kingdom of God and not a change in religion. Jesus didn’t give a rat’s behind what religion people were, but he wanted their personal allegiance. I don’t agree 100% with McLaren, but this particular book is helpful to start renewing our minds to what Jesus actually teaches in the gospels (“Repent and believe, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”) rather than reading our favorite religion into it (Christianity, for most Jesus-followers). Conceptually, it’s pretty similar to Greg Boyd’s book, “The Myth of a Christian Religion,” but because I’d read Boyd first, the McLaren book wasn’t as revolutionary to me. It’s still a good intro to helping the Christian church see that it’s unbiblical to push for people to convert from their previous religious system to the religious system of Christianity. Jesus didn’t do that–he never said anything about starting a new religion, but he wanted people to give themselves to him and thus participate in the Kingdom of God, whether they followed Judaism, the Samaritan religious system, served in the Roman army, or did whatever Syro-Phoenicians did for a religion.
I don’t understand what you are saying here. Jesus wanted people to place their faith in Him and to follow Him. In my reading of the bible I never got the slightest impression that Jesus wanted people to continue in their religious traditions and devote themselves to Him at the same time. Could you expound on what you mean here on what Jesus was looking for?
You say, “Jesus wanted people to place their faith in Him and to follow Him.”
I said, “he wanted people to give themselves to him and thus participate in the Kingdom of God.”
So we agree on that.
You seem to disagree with me about something else, though. Maybe it’s that you think “placing your faith in Jesus and following him” means converting to the religious system of modern-day Christianity? (I don’t know–I’m honestly trying to figure out where our thoughts don’t connect)
The key idea to me is that Jesus’ wanting “people to place their faith in Him and to follow Him” means a new way of life and a new expression of community (ie “the Kingdom of God”), which is possible to express in any religio-cultural setting. Of course, like leaven in a lump of dough, the Kingdom-way transforms and changes the dough to something different, but it’s still a lump of dough. Additionally, contrary to what is implied by most religious systems, Jesus never tells people to adopt new practices (especially not religious ones) as if the simple doing of those practices will save them. But he always brings it back to a matter of the heart, giving examples of how to act differently in the 1st-century Jewish context AS A RESULT OF changing your mind/heart to follow him (ie, “repenting”). Does that make sense?
Honestly, I’d love to hear passages where it sounds like Jesus is asking people to change from participation in one religious system to another. You say that you “never got the slightest impression that Jesus wanted people to continue in their religious traditions and devote themselves to Him at the same time,” so I assume you got some sort of opposite impression–ie that Jesus, by asking people to devote themselves to him, wanted people to change their religious traditions, and stop identifying with the Jewish religious system, or the Samaritan religious system, etc. Could you give examples where he pushes people to “convert” from identifying with one religious tradition to identifying themselves with another?
I know I don’t understand it all, but I’m just trying to share my recent thoughts on all this… (Obviously, if you’re really interested, I’d suggest reading the McLaren or Boyd books to get more info. )
I don’t think Jesus ever called people over to a particular “religion”. What I didn’t understand was that it seems to me that you were saying that it doesn’t matter if you are a Buddhist, or Muslim, or Pagan, or into Godess worship, etc, Jesus isn’t asking you to change those things, he just wants you to also believe in Him. Where it seems to me that Jesus seems to call people out of their former lives and into him. The phrase “in Christ” is frequent in the N.T. So many of the existing systems of thought and worship run contrary to Jesus, who He is, and what He taught. I don’t think you can be a Muslim and believe in Jesus because Muslims don’t believe in Jesus, other than that he was a great prophet. They don’t believe that he was God incarnate or that he died and rose on the third day. They don’t believe salvation is in his name. That is why Jesus called people “out of” or “out from”. I don’t think he was calling them out of their cultures or families, but he was certainly seemed to be calling them out of their way of thinking and believing. You couldn’t believe in Jesus without changing those things. I don’t know if I am making any sense. It is late and I’m really tired (and not really a very good communicator), but do you understand what I am saying? Am I misunderstanding what you were saying? Let me know what you think.
When someone devotes themselves to Jesus in a real, and growing way - they automatically by sheer nature of the fact begin to change their world views and practices. Someone following Jesus isn’t going to worship Baal. An Atheist who decides to be a Theist isn’t going to continue to deny the existence of God. But just because someone decides to follow Jesus doesn’t mean they’re going to give up celebrating holidays like Valentine’s day and Christmas, just because the church they go to insists that “Christmas and Valentine’s day are of the devil and those filthy pagan heathens!!!”.
Okay, I see what you’re saying. I totally agree that Jesus calls people out of their former lives and into him, which is what I was trying to say with the leaven-in-the-dough business. BUT that doesn’t necessarily mean changing their socio-religious identity. Only in the Western world is religious identification a matter of individual choice–everywhere else, it’s something you’re born into. This is the way the first century world was: a Jew was both a Jew by blood and Jew by religion. (Yes, there were ways for Gentiles to become “Jews,” but they were “proselytes”, never quite shaking their identity as aliens) So Jesus never pressed anyone to change their public profession of religious identity. Did he ask them to follow him, and not be ashamed of him before men? Yes. Did he ask them not to be ashamed of being called “Christian” (or any other religious label)? No.
(Side note: some people like to bring in 1 Peter 4:16 here, but I think that’s a different situation that I’d be glad to talk about in another conversation)
I would agree with you and go even further, saying that ALL systems of thought and worship run contrary to the Kingdom of God to some degree.
Ah-ha! Here we go! Thank you for making this example to someone with years of experience with Muslims. Actually, there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, with, according to a missiological number I’ve heard, 3000 different sects/expressions of “Islam.” It’s hardly monolithic in terms of theology or how they view Jesus–much less do they conform to mainstream media portrayals of “Muslims!” I know for a fact (having met them or met people who know them) that millions of “Muslims” believe in Jesus Christ (Isa al-Masih) alone for their peace with God. They love Jesus, follow his teachings, exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, and spread the good news of him as the way, the truth, and the life. They use Arabic terms, and they have an Arabic mindset, but their theology is biblical (if not “Christian” in the modern Western sense ) Similarly, there are millions of Hindus and Buddhists who follow Jesus but identify themselves according to the religion of their family of origin instead of as a “Christian.” Incidentally, many of these “Muslims,” “Hindus” and “Buddhists” encounter persecution–not because they’ve betrayed their families by taking a “Christian” name, but because of their witness for the uniqueness of the Messiah.
When I first heard about stuff like this, I was as shocked as the “circumcised believers” in Acts 11:2-3. After hearing the believers’ stories, and then MUCH study of what Jesus actually says (and what the NT teaches), I’ve come to the response of Acts 11:18.
Now this needs a little more teasing out, I think. What does it take to believe in Jesus? Well, what information did Jesus share with his disciples in order for them to start following him? Did he prove that he was God Incarnate, or that he would die and rise on the third day? Did he prove that salvation is only in his name? Did he even prove that he was a great prophet? According to Matt 4:19, the answer is NO. He said (essentially), “Make a concrete decision to change your way of life, and I will transform you.” It was only 1.5 or 2 years after daily interaction with him that his Messiah-ship really began to dawn on them (or on Peter, anyways–Matt 16). But were they ever identified as not-Jews? Well, they increasingly got weirder and weirder, but they were always within the bounds of the identification of “Jew,” both ethnically and religiously.
Does that make sense? Obviously, walking with Jesus changes one’s life drastically. Many times, this change is sudden and dramatic, while other times, it’s gradual. A Muslim or a Hindu or an atheist may wake up one day 50 years down the road and realize, “You know, I’m not really a Muslim (or a Hindu or an atheist) any more…maybe I’m a gasp Christian?!” Anyway, the point is that we not try to make people change their religious identification card (as many Asian countries in fact have) to “Christian” instead of “Muslim” or “Hindu.” The point is that we share the good news of the gospel of the Kingdom revealed in Jesus, and let them decide what they’re going to do in their lives as a result. If they keep showing interest, we keep sharing, continuing the process of discipleship. That’s how I see it at any rate.
No problem, Chris. Great to discuss with you–thanks for the questions and thoughts. Let me know If I’m not making sense.