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!

Why?

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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?

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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.

ORIGNAL POST:

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.

Related:

The Blog Post of Brian McLaren

McLaren on Larry King Live

Brian on Wikipedia

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

30 Comments

  • I am excited to read this book. I loved his thoughts in “Adventures In Missiong the Point,” a book he co-authored with Tony Campolo. Thanks for the recommendation.

  • Yeah, I’m looking forward to this book! But, goshdarnit, I’m so behind on my reading I still haven’t gotten to his last book (though it’s on the shelf with all my other “to read” books). Anyway, looking forward to your review!

  • New reader here. I wonder if when you do review this book you might compare the content to some of MacArthur’s criticisms you mentioned when you reviewed his book. And also how Brian’s new book might interact with Newbigin’s works you have been reading.
    The Amazon reviews of this one are not encouraging in that it seems reading McLaren requires its own hermeneutic.
    Also, I get the impression that he is delving into some aspects of political and economic philosophy in his treatment of “framing stories”. Can you evaluate his political and economic philosophies and is he imposing them on his reading of the New Testament?
    I look forward to your review.

  • hi Torrant. As you will see, i have just loaded up this post with some commentary and review of the book.
    I dont see much interaction with Newbigin in this book, and Newbigin’s big emphasis on HOPE as motivation for mission finds itself coming at social responsibity from the other angle.
    As for his political readings, there are many other writers who bring out this background – Ched Myers is worth reading on Mark – and although Brian doesnt use the term “gift economy” he tackles the subject and ties it to Jesus ministry in a way that I see as an honest approach to understanding the text and not “imposing” it. Jesus dealt a lot with Mammon. No denying that.
    As for MacArthur criticisms of Brian’s gnosticism, I think Brian is turning the tables and making people like MacArthur examine their own theologies for gnostic tendencies. MAybe we should all do that. . .

  • Don’t worry Andrew I still don’t have my review out!
    I think Al Hirsch wants it but I’ll send ya the link.
    P.S.
    I still think Lee C. Camp’s “Mere Discipleship” is second to none for intos to “the politics of Jesus”. Have you read it?

  • Jarrod, please let me know when you post and i will link it here. I hope my review does not detract from Brian’s important message to the church.
    havent read Camp but will look out for it.

  • Doesn’t Brian lean towards a full preterist position so that he thinks that even the second coming and resurrection have already happened? If this is so I am struggling with the implications for our individual eternal life. Is he merely redirecting the focus to a ‘Kingdom Now’ viewpoint? If so he’s saying nothing more than many of us have said for a long time. But do you think he might be thinking that the gospel is actually *all* about changing society and we only have eternal life in a sort of corporate sense? This is the question about this book that is disturbing me at the moment. I wonder what others think.

  • i think its obvious Brian is making a point by shifting the focus to Kingdom now and away from Kingdom later. No one would call it a balanced treatment. But we are not sure if Brian thinks there is nothing to come or if he is just making a statement.

  • Wonderful review, Andrew–I can say this even though (so far) I am quite comfortable with the direction he’s heading. But when I finish reading I’ll let you know if its just too darn imminent (somehow I doubt I’ll think this; I don’t think Brian goes as far as Don Cupitt in Mysticism After Modernity and that’s kind of my gold standard for going waaaay too far on imminence). I think it’s smart to see a lot of this revolving around one’s eschatology. It could well be the terms like ‘preterism’ (full or otherwise) aren’t the most helpful way to frame this; I’d recommend Andrew Perriman’s Coming of the Son of Man and any of the resources of < http://www.presence.tv/cms/journal.php>Presence International for framing of a trans-millennial approach to ‘practical apocalypse’ that reframes our Scriptural understanding for the good.

  • Wonderful review, Andrew–I can say this even though (so far) I am quite comfortable with the direction he’s heading. But when I finish reading I’ll let you know if its just too darn imminent (somehow I doubt I’ll think this; I don’t think Brian goes as far as Don Cupitt in Mysticism After Modernity and that’s kind of my gold standard for going waaaay too far on imminence). I think it’s smart to see a lot of this revolving around one’s eschatology. It could well be the terms like ‘preterism’ (full or otherwise) aren’t the most helpful way to frame this; I’d recommend Andrew Perriman’s Coming of the Son of Man and any of the resources of < http://www.presence.tv/cms/journal.php>Presence International for framing of a trans-millennial approach to ‘practical apocalypse’ that reframes our Scriptural understanding for the good.

  • *coughGalatians1:6-10cough*
    If Brian isn’t preaching a “different gospel,” I don’t know who is…

  • ahhhh – 2 days without internet and i was wondering if there would be a string of unanswered questions and angry people
    guess not
    not easy writing a mixed review for Brian who we all agree is a lovely and gracious man and never says a bad word about anyone. It feels like writing a parking ticket for Ghandi. Hope it doesnt detract from Brian’s URGENT message to take seriously the call for transformation adn justice NOW in today’s world.
    Mike – Thanks – i just read Andrew Perriman’s book last month and am hoping he can come up to Orkney in January for an event here. I will take a look at this since i know he has a passion for eschtatology.
    and yes – “preterism” is not a helpful word and hardly anyone knows what it means.
    not that “eschtatology” is used daily at the breakfast table . ..
    “Ahhh honey . .. before you run off to school . . . why dont you finish off your cornflakes . . and say . . what are the kids at school saying, if anything, about the latest understanding of ESCHATALOGICAL viewpoints?”

  • Ok, the shirt with Che was beyond creative!! As a gringo transplant in Latin America I can’t wait to read it…now on page 7…

  • “Maybe I am turning into Ken Flippin Silva!”
    Oh my Andrew, we can’t have that. As a matter of fact, if you were to ask the Lord, I’m pretty sure He’d tell that one of me is questionable enough…but another…that would never do. šŸ˜‰

  • not easy writing a mixed review for Brian who we all agree is a lovely and gracious man and never says a bad word about anyone. It feels like writing a parking ticket for Ghandi. Hope it doesnt detract from Brian’s URGENT message to take seriously the call for transformation adn justice NOW in today’s world.
    It seems to me that – at least based on the Synoptic Gospels – Jesus tended to issue strong calls to action and often didn’t bother to clarify the finer points of his theology.
    This makes me wonder: if Jesus didn’t feel the need to be clear about all his theology why does Brian have to be?
    I’m just asking…

  • fair enough helen. and also, Brian wrote an excellent book on teh church (on the other side) so, if he hasnt changed his mind, his strong hold on the church is represented in previous writings
    i think i am ready for another post to explore further thoughts.

  • Regarding Brian’s theology, here’s an excerpt from a recent comment he made on Scot McKnight’s blog, in response to Scot’s comments about the portion of the book where he parodies the Magnificat:
    Brian: “I certainly believe in the need for saving faith, for forgiveness, for hope beyond death, for the pursuit of orthodox articulations of belief, for overcoming the damning effects of sin, for rejecting wholeheartedly the idea that we can be saved by our own efforts or through religion, and so on. Iā€™m not attacking those beliefs.”
    You can read the whole comment (which is quite extensive) here (it’s #57)

  • Somehow managed to miss this when it came out. (It didn’t show up in Google Reader, oddly enough.) Jordon Cooper mentioned it last night and Darryl Dash and I argued that it hadn’t been posted yet. (That dang GR thing.)
    All this to say, well said. I think you handled your concerns well, filled in the gaps that appear to be there (haven’t read the book yet) and moved the conversation forward. Your humour adds much to the conversation.
    And yes, Ken, one of you is definitely enough. šŸ™‚

  • I’m about halfway through this book and find your comments very interesting.
    I’m relatively new to the emerging church world (last couple of years) and have really only started to TRY and get up to speed with the conversation recently. I am really trying to get a handle on exactly what it is that everyone is saying.
    Can someone tell me… is the idea that is expressed in this book of ‘Kingdom now’ universal to the emerging church? And I guess I don’t mean in the sense that we are called to help the poor and disadvantaged etc, (for example in the way that the Salvation Army has always done a great job of doing) I guess I am referring to what Brian seems to be saying is a theological truth that the kingdom of God is all about now not ‘to come’ so to speak.
    Or have I missed the point altogether?
    I am a former pastor (or currently non-practising if that is a better term) and have a lot of thoughts about church and new ways to do church and how it all seems to be changing. I’m just trying to clarify if my thoughts are considered ’emerging church’.
    Obviously I have a lot more reading and ‘conversing’ to do.
    Enjoy your blog by the way – thanks!
    Ben
    (tall and not so skinny kiwi living abroad! well, if you can call Brisbane ‘abroad’!)

  • I wrote another review, or rather more of a reflection, based on my reading of McLaren’s book last week: Everything Must Change?
    I was disappointed that McLaren didn’t say more about what individuals can and should do about the glaringly obvious problems he did write about.

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