In the time since my first post on McLaren's latest book, Everything Must Change, I wound up finishing the entire book, but that feat didn't come easily.
My initial intention was to make posts as I traveled along through his book, but there were points at which I wasn't sure that I wanted to review it any longer. I scribbled and underlined in this book more than any other book I've read in a while and more than once, I was tempted to cease reading it. That's just the kind of book it was for me and it was what I signed up for--challenging. My initial intention was to get my first taste of the widely-influential and controversial writing of McLaren and be challenged in the process. I got more than I bargained for.
However, I don't think I am prepared to be a critic of McLaren. Unlike many of his often militant critics, I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt here and try to learn from his understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Many of his critics have labeled him a heretic, slamming him for abandoning orthodox Christianity; however, if every heretic were as sincere, passionate and thoughtful in their life-giving attempts to follow the Way of Jesus as McLaren seems to be, then I wouldn't be too upset.
That said, let's revisit the book.
I left off, having introduced McLaren's two preoccupying questions.
The author goes on to tell a story of a visit to Cape Town, South Africa (A city that is very dear to my heart, having lived there for over 5 months. I can attest to the injustice and poverty that is spoken of.) There, he met a young, Christian healthcare worker. The young man had gathered several pastors who were preaching to the poor in Khayelitsha and shared his anger over the destruction that many of them were doing for the lives of AIDS victims in particular. This conversation became a very heated debate and left a lot of ruffled feathers, because the young man felt that they were too focused on "being born again" for the next life and they weren't concerned about helping the people in this life, or "being born again in a fuller sense of the term."
Explicitly eluding to Jesus' words in John 3, this conversation between the young, saddened, Christian man and the pastors who were preaching in the slums where he worked, raises a question that is a major thread throughout the remainder of McLaren's book: is the message - the Good News - of Jesus strictly one that promises life in heaven after we die, with some possible trickle effects of hope and justice in this earthly life or does the Good News of Jesus provide hope of major transformation for not just our individual lives, but for society as a whole?
To a fault, I think McLaren likes to express the alternatives to our conventional paradigm in an extreme manner, nearly creating two diametric poles of what is possible in following Jesus. He does occasionally remind the reader that there is much good in the traditional views of what it means to be a Christian (more on that later), but it seems to be an afterthought most often. That being said, I still greatly appreciate his boldness in confronting the degree to which we have compromised Jesus and the Kingdom of God for our allegiance to the "suicidal system."
The suicidal what? More in Part III.