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The Secret Message of Jesus The Secret Message of Jesus
Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything

Brian D McLaren
ISBN 0849991439 (9780849991431)
Thomas Nelson, 2006

Category: Emerging Church & Postmodern Faith

Cynics have more than once observed that Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom but we ended up with the church. But cynical or not, there's a core of truth behind the observation: the church, with all its power struggles and infighting — not to mention its involvements in war, horrific suppressions of heresy and oppression of minorities — is certainly not the Kingdom of God; and if it's the bride of Christ, it should be a blushing bride, blushing in shame.

So if the church as we have it is not what Jesus intended, what did he intend? If the church has lost the plot, can we rediscover it? This is what McLaren sets out to explore here: "What if," he asks, "Jesus' secret message reveals a secret plan? What if he didn't come to start a new religion — but rather came to start a political, social, religious, artistic, economic, intellectual, and spiritual revolution that would give birth to a new world?" (p.4).

A surprisingly simple answer emerges: not McLaren's words, but to sum his argument up, the Kingdom of God is not pie in the sky when you die — it's cake on the plate while you wait; not so much reassurance for the sweet by and by (although there is that in it) but revolution in the here and now.

Engage 7Described by Engage magazine (available from participating Christian bookshops, pdf download,1.8MB) as "McLaren's most unsettling book to date," this book has certainly ruffled a few feathers in conservative theological quarters, typified, for example, by the response of Gary E Gilley, a Southern Baptist pastor, who dismisses McLaren as offering "a sad substitute for the gospel message as found in Scripture" (although McLaren's in good company here, since Gilley also dismisses St Patrick, St Francis, Teresa of Avila, Desmond Tutu and Mother Teresa, amongst others, as not "true Christians").

I find myself puzzled: perhaps I've read too much of McLaren to be taken by surprise or perhaps it's that McLaren's understanding of the Gospel is so close to my own, but to my way of thinking the message of Jesus has always been about the whole of life. It is a holistic message, with powerful implications for private morality, public policy and everything inbetween: as Jesus himself expressed it, it's "Good news for the poor" and, as the account of the rich young man makes abundantly clear, bad news for the rich if they're in love with their wealth.

This is a superbly written book that deserves to be widely read, especially by any who think that Christianity is all about other-worldliness and has no relevance for real life. Bad news, people: Jesus means business, and his message isn't just about what you believe at home or what hymns you sing at church on Sunday, it's 24/7, about how you behave at work, about how you vote, how you shop, how you treat your neighbour and your enemy, your attitude towards those of other faiths or other persuasions.

The Secret Message of Jesus? It's an open secret: the Kingdom of God is among us, and it's no democracy. One rule: love. To close with McLaren's own words, "If enough of us see the kingdom — and seeing it, rethink our lives, and rethinking our lives, believe that the impossible is possible — everything could change." (p. 204).

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Phil Groom, July 2006

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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