In part one (chapters 1-5) of The Secret Message of Jesus Brian McLaren begins to excavate Jesus by looking into his history and background. This exploration begins with a series of poignant questions. Here are three examples of the ones that connected with me the most:
• "What if the religion generally associated with Jesus neither expects nor trains its adherents to actually live in the way of Jesus (page 3)?”
• "What if his secret message had practical implications for such issues as how you live your daily life, how you earn and spend money, how you treat people of other races and religions, and how the nations of the world conduct their foreign policy (page 4)?"
• "What if Jesus had actually concealed his deepest message, not trying to make it overt and obvious but intentionally hiding it as a treasure one must seek in order to find? If that’s the case, why would Jesus ever do such a thing (page 4)?"
Second, in these chapters the author makes obvious that the people most often associated with a quest for Jesus may not be Christians. He writes, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if the people who started discovering and believing the hidden message of Jesus were people who aren’t even identified as Christians (page 8)?” Indeed, that is not only interesting, Brian, that is ironic. What is it about becoming a “Christian” that means we sometimes end our quest for Jesus there, as soon as we start wearing the label and the title? This is convicting for me, but also perplexing.
And this is precisely what McLaren hints at throughout, i.e. our tendency to experience following Jesus as a formula rather than a poem. Formulas are meant to be memorized, they’re usually simple and straightforward with expected outcomes and sometimes they come in the form of slogans. Examples from my childhood in church are tracts or an “emotional experience at the end of a church service (page 38).”
But a beautiful poem isn’t formulaic at all. Writes McLaren, “Is it possible that the message of Jesus was…more like a poem whose meaning only comes subtly and quietly to those who read slowly, think long and deeply, and refuse to give up (page 34)?” You see, life is not like a formula where if I simply do X, Y will happen. Life has lots of unexpected outcomes and is more like a story or poem. So, is it surprising that that’s where the message of Jesus can be found?
In this stretch we also read about the Jewish message of Jesus, the Kingdom Jesus came to establish gets defined, and we learn, in its proper context, just how much of a revolutionary Jesus was perceived to be. But the best chapter was number two – The Political Message of Jesus. Here the author stabs at the sentiment that “The teachings of Jesus are personal. They have nothing to do with politics and foreign policy” by building off of Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics: Why The Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It and saying, “I’ve become convinced that although Jesus’ message was personal, it was not private (page 10).”
Next Thursday we will look at part two of the book.