Friday, December 28, 2007

Everything Must Change: How big is the gospel?

This week I finished reading Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. It's an ambitious book, with forays into global poverty and economics, war and security, systemic injustice, international debt, arms dealing, religious conflict, environmental issues and all the rest. It's a bit overwhelming, but McLaren audaciously brings these issues into the light of the way of Jesus and the kingdom. He argues that because sin and evil are so big and ubiquitous, "any gospel capable of confronting today's global crises must be correspondingly expansive." Here's an excerpt:
"Sadly, in too many quarters we continue to reduce the scope of the gospel to the individual soul and the nuclear family, framing it in a comfortable, personalized format--it's all about personal devotions, personal holiness, and a personal Savior. This domesticated gospel will neither rock any boats nor step out of them into stormy waters. We have in many ways responded to the big global crises of our day with an incredible, shrinking gospel. The world has said, 'No thanks.'"
McLaren says that a more global, non-individualistic gospel requires a more robust understanding of the kingdom of God, where the "new heavens and new earth" is best understood as a new way of living within the present space-time universe (rather than a different universe or an abstract "heaven" or "eternity"). Hope for the world is not that the world will be obliterated but that it will be renewed and transformed so that "the forces of injustice are defeated and justice reshapes and transforms the world for the common good."

I resonate with this holistic, more cosmic understanding of the gospel, but I also struggle with it precisely because it's so big. In many ways, it's easier to think of "saving souls" and individuals crossing a bridge to heaven. It's harder to imagine what it means that Jesus came to deliver and redeem the whole world, especially since different kinds of Christians have such divergent views of what Jesus would have us do to transform society. Maybe the way to not be overwhelmed is to keep the big picture in mind, but then to try to figure out on a local level what our particular part of the drama will be.


Bob McInnis said...

I have found that "Everything Must Change" resonates with me too. The struggle for me isn't in accepting that we have had it all wrong - it is in the denial that I hear from many quarters. It seems that the modern Pharisees want to hold fast to their white washed pots. A secular writer, Canadian Thomas Homer-Dixon talks about catagenesis in his book " The Upside of Down" as "is an important
part of adaptation - that you’re going to have growth, increasing complexity, breakdown, recombination, regeneration,
regrowth, and so forth in cycles again and again. A system able to incorporate those cycles in a natural, “standard
operating procedure” kind of way is going to require non-hierarchical distributed problem solving."

I look forward to the rebirth of the church from the ashes.

Danny said...

Yes. He is a valuable tool for the emerging church. The gospel is NOT about individuality.


Unknown said...

I've been hoping to blog soon (I usually do a lot more hoping to blog on things than actual blogging...) on a couple of my favorite Christmas carols. This post brought me back to one of my favorite song verses ever, from "Joy to the World":

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Or thorns infest the ground
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

That's the big-picture Gospel. I agree that figuring out what that looks like for us individually and in community is a crazy adventure. Lucky for us, there are few places (er, none, to be specific) the curse can NOT be found... so we can get started just about anywhere, I think. ;o)

I bought the Jesus Storybook Bible the other day, btw, and it's maybe my favorite book I've read in a long, long time. (Along with my new hero, Lauren Winner...) I'm even sharing it with one of my slowly-investigating-God friends. Thanks so much for sharing it with your readers via your kids' books sidebar.

Anonymous said...

I think its hard to get the big picture when we in the privileged west have our world(s) so profoundly split between domestic/productive, spiritual/material etc.

My own take is that it's about getting back to the roots of the promise to Abraham and of the People of God's role in modelling and enjoying a holistic and inclusive alternative (e.g. feast of tabernacles - its amazingly integrated stuff Duet 16v13-15 - we have such an amazing resource for re-imagining what holistic kingdom living/coming might be in this stuff)

Seeing this all life + all of society embracing Covenantal theme in Jesus' good news to the poor and year of favour and Paul's 'all one family with same mission' in Romans (see NT Wright's much more satisfactory overviews of Romans) and seeing it cosmically in God reconciling all things to himself in Christ (see Walsh & Keesmat Colossians Remixed)

Anyway... getting all excited there. must confess to not having read suburban.. or everything .. books but am currently getting v encouraged by more and more people allowing the Gods story into everything not just individual ‘spiritual’ salvation which may have been THE question in 1500's and a key issue now but we need to grapple with our time and place. I am currently leading a church that is struggling with tension between the microscope view and the wide screen view of the Gospel
Its really hard work and there may be a good hearted parting I think its sad and some of us feel all talked out communion holds us together -

any tips on how to have he conversations more fruitfully?

Anonymous said...

You said:
"Maybe the way to not be overwhelmed is to keep the big picture in mind, but then to try to figure out on a local level what our particular part of the drama will be."

GOOD CALL. I know that, at least for me, that's how I'm trying to do it. But I must say, it's really easy for me to continually slide back into the big picture and get overwhelmed again, and have to dig myself out... I don't want to get lost in the big picture because it gives me tunnel vision and actually hinders my attempts to be Christ-like in the normal everyday stuff; the stuff that I can actually have an affect on.

Unknown said...

I think the localization of the living out the Gospel is a good idea... but only if you realize that sometimes God asks you to switch locales. Or to remain connected to other locations in less central ways-- I think that's especially important for the N.A. church! Otherwise acting locally can end up hoarding resources in one super-rich place.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read the book you mentioned, however I have read enough of McLaren's other works to understand his perspective (at least in part). I have to say (as Danny has asserted) that "the gospel is NOT about individuality" is not entirely true. Certainly, the gospel has overwhelming societal implications and the western church has morphed "the gospel" into something that doesn't represent the truth of Jesus' words at all, and is more of a "Moralistic-Therapeutic-Deism". BUT, the gospel is not a "trickle down" message, quite the contrary. The gospel, that is the message that Jesus humbled himself, laid down his heavenly privilege, lived a sinless life, died a tortuous death at the hands of sinful man, and rose again on the third day to bring the reconciliation that "ds" spoke of, and now forever lives to make intercession for the saints, because he is the high priest that is intimately acquainted with the sufferings and temptations we all face, in fact always starts with a Divine call to individual repentance. You will find no other gospel that so compels one to move toward a right understanding of how an individual believer should interact with the world around him - locally and globally. I think the western church's failure to grasp this, and instead focus more on a narcissistic message that appeals to the longings of the flesh as a means to perpetuate institutional growth has led some "emerging" leaders like McLaren to throw the baby out with the bath water and assume that starting with the individual means that you cannot realize societal change. I disagree, the Bible is clear that change begins in the heart of a person, not a culture, and it is the shining forth of the redemptive reality of "Christ in you (singular), the hope of glory" that will eventually bring about external change. Though Brian would have the world influenced by Christianity today going to hell in a hand-basket, it would be important to point out that much of the positive work done in relief work, missions, medical advances, human-rights and yes, even environmentalism has been advanced by a culture that has been largely shaped from a traditional understanding of the gospel, which begins in individual hearts. Sorry to rant.

Al Hsu said...

Thanks for commenting, everybody. Let me just affirm a quick "both/and" here. The gospel is both individual and corporate/social. Throughout Scripture, God is concerned both about individuals as well as corporate entities, whether Israel or the church or the nations. It's all good.

Al Hsu said...

One more quick follow-up. totai's assertion "Christ in you (singular)" is incorrect. Now that I'm home and have access to my Greek New Testament, I looked it up and the phrase there in Colossians 1 is christos en umin, which is a plural you. So in that particular verse Paul is addressing the Colossian church as a community and talking about Christ in you (plural, the church).

Anonymous said...

I think Brian MacLaren must change and return to orthodoxy. Basically I believe he has lost the orthodox faith and it's sad that he continues to spiral away from the center of the faith.

Anonymous said...

Why would you say something like that Anonymously... That's basically of no use to anyone.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the correction Al, you are correct. Although, I would still assert that a corporate body "you" is still comprised of singular "you's" without which there would be no application at all. At the end of the day, it is the working out of the gospel both in the corporate and individual life (as you have pointed out) that is to point the world to Christ.

Mike Clawson said...

"Let me just affirm a quick "both/and" here. The gospel is both individual and corporate/social. Throughout Scripture, God is concerned both about individuals as well as corporate entities, whether Israel or the church or the nations. It's all good."

Having just finished the Everything Must Change Tour here in Chicago, I'm positive that Brian would agree with that too.