In my last post, I ended by introducing what McLaren calls the "Suicidal Machine." The Machine is an image he uses that says the earth is a "machine" made up of three intertwined wheels that propel society: equity, prosperity and security. The machine consumes energy, mostly from the primary energy source of the sun and produces waste and heat. It is a very impersonal image, but through a very detailed discussion, he gets his point across.
He also introduces the idea of a "framing story," which guides humans, individually and collectively. Another way of describing this guiding paradigm could be a sort of "worldview." McLaren believes that the current framing story of the majority of society (he focuses on the American and North) is destructive, weak, unrealistic and dangerous and is consequently sending "the machine" on a suicide mission. If our framing story tells us that the goal of life is to live as individuals who can accumulate an abundance of possessions, experience maximum pleasure in a maximum number of years on earth at whatever the cost to those around us (child or slave laborers produce some of our possessions). McLaren also believes that our framing story has become subject to an excessive over-confidence in ourselves and our nation-state, as he tells brief stories of wars from the past 60 years.
Specifically for Christians, McLaren maintains that the incomplete and fractured framing story of our day has caused us to focus too much on "me" and "my spiritual life" and "my eternal destiny" and has neglected the injustices in our world including systemic poverty, propensity to use violence rather than peace, ecological destruction, overconsumption and corporate greed. McLaren believes that our understanding of the "good news" has lost its inherent truth: that it's the best news. He argues that the framing story that drives us day by day has lost the holistic and hopeful perspective that the good news is about making a better world and helping individuals find abundant life.
McLaren necessarily takes this framing story idea into his initial operating questions: Is it possible that at the heart and life and message of Jesus was an attempt to expose, challenge, confront, transform and replace the unhealthy framing stories of his day?
I do believe that in many local churches in America we have softened the message of Jesus. Jesus was living in an intensely, politically-charged era, where the Roman empire had incredible influence on Jewish society. That influence along with a selfish reading of the holy text caused many Jewish teachers to lead the people down a path of destruction rather than life. Many Christians, when reading his language of a "suicidal mission" may respond "well, of course!" McLaren believes many Christians have a sort of religious, death-wish: the world is going to keep getting worse and I can't wait for that day, because Jesus will come back and I get to escape it all. This belief hinges on our interpretations of Scripture. Obviously, he has different interpretations than many traditional denominations.
I agree with McLaren on this point, although he only says it implicitly: much of the Christian community has stronger allegiances with the American "empire" and has become corrupted in our thinking, driven by the same worldly pursuits and idealogies that "the suicidal machine's" framing story is teaching. Is McLaren preaching too much of a social gospel? That, I do not know. I've only reviewed a quarter of the book! I don't think that is the point, though some would disagree (those who say he is a heretic, a false teacher). I believe that prophetic, challenging truth is found in his writing and I plan to continue reviewing...