471 of 504 people found the following review helpful
The provocative title alone is enough to grab one's attention. In fact, I have been reading scathing reviews/criticism of the title for weeks on other sites written by people who haven't even read the book. I guess I'm a little different. I felt that I should probably actually read the book before I presumed to comment on it (crazy, I know). Now, having read the the book ), I'll share my thoughts on what I have (actually) read.
I'll begin my admitting my bias. I have been looking forward to this book. McLaren's work has been a blessing to me and has reinvigorated my faith. That being said, introduction is vintage McLaren. On every page I was struck with the sense of "I'm not alone," and "I'm not crazy". He beautifully articulates thoughts and feelings that I've been having for years. Has Christianity in it's most popular forms somehow missed or lost the major thrust of Jesus' message and elevated other things, which though important, were never meant to have the prominence they now enjoy?
Chapter 1 is titled "Troubling Questions About Jesus". It begins with almost 2 full pages of questions about Jesus and his message that will indeed trouble you if you will actually consider them. They are not however the kind of questions that critics would accuse him of asking. From the title, many are assuming that McLaren is promoting a Gnostic view of Jesus. This is most assuredly not the case. The divinity of Jesus is quite firmly upheld and affirmed. What is questioned is our perceptions and understandings. McLaren asks "What if Jesus of Nazareth was right--more right in different ways than we ever realized? What if Jesus had a message that could truly save the world, but we're prone to miss the point of it?" This chapter is a very useful exercise in thought for those who are willing to go through it.
Chapter 2 is on "The Political Message of Jesus". In in, McLaren outlines the 4 major "political parties" of Jesus' day (Pharisees, Saducees, Zealots, Essenes), and then compares and contrasts Jesus' message/methods with theirs. It is quite an informative exercise with far reaching implications that branch into our own day and culture.
Chapter 3 explores "The Jewish Message of Jesus". This chapter brings to mind the work of N.T. Wright (particularly "The New Testament and the People of God"), though it is done in a more accessible way than Wright's scholarly work. McLaren has certainly done his homework. This background is absolutely key to understanding Jesus and his message in context. I am genuinely excited about the release of this book so that this type of contextualization will be available in such a readable form.
Chapter 4 examines "The Revolutionary Message of Jesus." It begins with a summary of the story of scripture very similar to the one presented in "The Story We Find Ourselves In". Some may consider this to be rehashing old material, but I find it to be quite necessary for the argument McLaren is building and appreciate it's inclusion here. This chapter also includes a nod to eschatology that is strikingly different from the "Escapist" eschatologies that are currently enjoying popularity. Without giving away too much, the "revolution" that the title refers to is eschatological in nature and the implication is that Jesus and his followers were/are revolutionaries moving toward that end.
Chapter 6 is titled "The Hidden Message of Jesus", and begins by examining the fact that Jesus messages weren't overtly religious. His teaching honestly can't be extolled for it's clarity. Jesus was often quite vague. McLaren raises the question, "What could possibly be the benefit of Jesus's hiddenness, intrigue, lack of clarity, metaphor, and answering questions with questions? Why risk being misunderstood--or not understood at all? If the message is so important, why hide it in evocative rather than technical language?" Why indeed?
McLaren will surprise his critics in a few instances, (though I'm sure they will dismiss it because they presume to know what he "really means"). For example, on page 6 he states, "A lot of people say, 'It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.' I'd like to challenge that belief. Believing untrue things puts you at odds with reality, and can prove downright destructive." That's not quite the relativist statement you would expect from reading his critics. He also notes the contemporary fascination with the "Gnostic Gospels" and "The Davinci Code". He wonders how we could have reached a point where the Jesus presented in those so called accounts could seem more interesting to some people than the Jesus presented in the canonical gospels. He suggests that a benefit from all this hype is that, while those accounts themselves are misleading, they could force us to consider "the possibility that the church's conventional versions of Jesus may not do him justice."
To be totally honest with you, I keep thinking "This is the book I wish I had written." Let's get in to section 2:
Part 2 is called "Engagement: Grappling With The Meaning of Jesus's Message"
Chapter 6 explores "The Medium of the Message". In this chapter, McLaren examines Jesus use of "parable". What could possibly be the benefit of trying to advance this radical message in short, seemingly irreligious stories? He also takes a closer look at the string of parables found in Matthew 13. I really appreciated Brian's insight in this chapter. I think his background in Literature really pays off here.
Chapter 7 is titled "The Demonstration of the Message". Here McLaren tackles the subject of Miracles. Why did Jesus perform them? Did it have anything to do with his message? McLaren also looks at worldviews here. Did God just set the world in motion, to run on its own...and are miracles when he reaches in from a distance and "fiddles with the gears"? Is there another way to look at miracles other than when a generally uninvolved God decides to intervene?
Chapter 8 deals with "The Scandal of the Message". What were/are the powers and principalities that Jesus was trying to overturn. How does his message combat them. Demons, possession and the like also get some discussion in this compelling chapter. McLaren actually tries to find some common ground for people who believe in literal demons and those who don't. It is a very interesting and compelling take on the subject.
In Chapter 9, McLaren explains that "You Can't Keep a Secret". Here, he tackles "The Great Commission". He even integrates the differently worded versions of it from the different gospel writers into a single paraphrased account. What exactly was the mission that Jesus laid out for his followers. Over the years, have we begun to miss the point of it?
I loved chapter 10. It's called "Secret Agents of the Kingdom". McLaren says, "Too often, when the story of the movement of Jesus is told, most of the focus is on the religious professionals. But what if their role is at best minor? What if the real difference is made in the world not by us preachers, but by those who endure our preaching, those who quietly live out the secret message of the kingdom of God in their daily, workaday likes in the laboratory, classroom, office, cockpit, parliament, kitchen, market, factory, and neighborhood?" This chapter is positively inspirational. I admit I wiped a couple of tears.
Chapter 11 is called "The Open Secret". In this brief chapter, McLaren deconstructs the argument of Christianity v/s Paulianity that is being promoted by some these days. He points out many of the places where Paul overtly speaks of "the Kingdom" (Jesus central message), and then discusses why Paul doesn't just repeat the ideas that Jesus taught and uses different terminology. He also talks a good bit about "inclusion" here.
In Chapter 12, McLaren talks about "Hiding the Message in New Places". He explores how Paul found new ways to communicate the message of Jesus, like subverting Caesar's political propaganda and putting Jesus in Caesar's place. Again, the I am reminded of the work of N.T. Wright, though, as before, it is presented here in a much more accessible form. Brian also points out that while Paul doesn't use parables, he does use stories, including his own to spread the message.
Chapter 13 was a surprise to me. He titles it "getting it, Getting in". Here, McLaren delivers a beautifully fresh take on "the Plan of Salvation", (yes, that plan of salvation). I really can't describe to you how I felt when I read this chapter. "Hope" I guess gets closest to what I felt.
Section 3 is titled "Imagination: Exploring how Jesus's secret message could change everything".
Chapter 14: "Kingdom Manifesto"--In this chapter, McLaren walks us through "The Sermon on The Mount". If one buys into Jesus' "Secret Message", what does that mean for the way they live their life? McLaren sees this passage as being key to answering that question. He explains:
"I should acknowledge that many people assume the sermon intends to answer one question--namely, 'How does an individual go to heaven after death?' This was my assumption as well for many years, but as I have reflection the life and message of Jesus, I have become convinced that Jesus is exploring a very different set of questions--namely, 'What kind of life does God want people to live? What does life in the kingdom of God look like? What is a truly good (or righteous) life? How does this message differ from conventional messages?' Rather than directing our attention to life after death in heaven, away from this life and beyond history, these questions return our focus to the here and now--and in so doing, they provide an essential window into Jesus' secret message."
Chapter 15: "Kingdom Ethics"--Here, McLaren continues his exploration of the "Sermon on the Mount", looking specifically at "spiritual practices" and character. This is a really challenging chapter. I don't mean that its tough to read or that its tough to understand. It's quite simple in those areas actually. I mean it will challenge you at a deeply personal level. He asks deeply penetrating questions dealing with the way we tend to center our lives around the "unholy trinity of money, sex and power", and then points to 3 ways that Jesus message combats this tendency"
Chapter 16: "The Language of the Kingdom"--This is a great chapter. McLaren points out that the wording of the message of Jesus was not crafted in a vacuum. Jesus message was constructed in language that was relative to the time and culture in which he originally delivered it. (Note: The language of the message is relative, not the message itself). Jesus used the term "Kingdom of God" because that phrase evoked certain images in the minds and hearts of his listeners...images that are almost certainly NOT evoked in the minds and hearts of 21 Century Americans (or anyone else in the world for that matter). Here McLaren explores 6 metaphors that he sees as "have(ing) a lot of promise" for helping us to hear the message as the first listeners would have. In my opinion, what he comes up with here is brilliant.
Chapter 17: "The Peaceable Kingdom"--In this chapter, McLaren explores the theme of peace or Shalom in Jesus' message. He explores pacifism and "just war theory", giving plenty of room for different convictions, but asking challenging questions, none the less. This one will make you think.
Chapter 18: "The Borders of the Kingdom"--Here, McLaren explores the ideas of inclusion and exclusion. He advances the idea that it's inclusiveness is one of the main things that makes Jesus' message so revolutionary. Even so, Brian makes a point to also maintain that some exclusiveness is, in fact necessary (much to the surprise of his critics, I'm sure). He says:
"If the kingdom of God were a symphony, it would welcome anyone who had a desire to learn to play music--from tuba player to piccolo players, from violinists to percussionists. It would accept beginners and master musicians, probably by pairing up the novices with mentors who could help them to learn. But it could not welcome people who hated music or who wanted to shout and scream and disrupt rehearsals and concerts; that would ruin the music for everyone and destroy the symphony. True, it would try to influence music haters to become music lovers, but it couldn't accept them into the symphony until they wanted to be there because of a love of music."
Chapter 19: "The Future of The Kingdom"--In this chapter, McLaren explores what I have referred to elsewhere as a "restorationist eschatology". If that last sentence didn't make any sense to you, he's basically discussing what's commonly referred to as "end times" in many Christian circles. This however is not the philosophy of the "Left Behind" books. This is a Biblically based Eschatology of hope. It's a view in which God doesn't just give up on his dream for the world in Genesis 3, but rather sees God as working toward the "restoration" or "renewal" of "all things". In this view the project is actually going somewhere (other than oblivion). It also explores the idea that our afterlife consists not of disembodied bliss in a nonmaterial heaven, but rather a resurrected, embodied existence in a Re-newed Creation. If you've never explored these ideas before, I beg you to read this. It will give you hope like you've never known.
Chapter 20: "The Harvest of the Kingdom"--"But what about 'heaven'?" one might ask after reading the previous chapter. Here, McLaren explores that very Biblical idea as well and how it fits into the picture.
Chapter 21: "Seeing the Kingdom"--In this final chapter, McLaren explores what N.T. Wright refers to as the "already and not yet" aspect of the kingdom. In scripture, the Kingdom is referred to as both a present and future reality. Most of us don't have that hard of a time thinking of it as a future reality (though we aren't quite sure how it will get there). On the other hand, when we look around at the world we live in, we see so many things that are out of harmony with God's will and Jesus' message. McLaren maintains that there are many places where the kingdom is breaking through, if you know how to look for it, and explores how we can do exactly that. This chapter included a quote from Frederick Buechner that actually brought tears to my eyes.
The book ends with 3 short appendicies. Normally I wouldn't review appendicies, but these are quite good and worth mentioning.
Appendix 1: "The Prayer of the Kingdom"
Here McLaren explores "the Lord's Prayer". He mentioned it earlier in the book, but here he gives it a more thorough treatment by breaking it down and discussing what each part of it might mean (particularly given it's historical context). This is generally an excellent treatment, and quite valuable in the discussion.
Appendix 2: "Why Didn't We Get It Sooner?"
Here, McLaren anticipates a criticism and answers it. He notes that most of the scholars and theologians he has referenced are contemporary. He then recognizes that some might wonder if what he's proposing is actually in the text or if its being read into the text. If this has always "been there", then why is it noticably absent from much of the scholarship of church history. If this is true, then why does it seem so new to most of us. McLaren offers 8 factors that help to answer exactly these questions. One may anticipate a "cop-out" here, but that certainly isn't what he delivers. McLaren's 8 factors are quite thought provoking indeed, and not easily dismissed. I think it was very wise for him to address these issues here.
Appendix 3: "Plotting Goodness"
This is McLaren's "Now what?" chapter. If you buy this stuff, what can you do with it? He simply offers some suggestions for how you might proceed. These few pages are very practical and I hope that many take him up on them.
458 of 497 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2006
This book should finally lay to rest any complaints that Brian is too often vague and evasive in stating what exactly he does believe about the gospel. In this book he is crystal clear. Bottom line: it's about the kingdom of God.
Of course, that's not to say that Brian purports to answer every question or spell out a detailed systematic theology. Instead, rather true to form, he paints us a picture with broad strokes, giving us a new way to look at what Jesus and his gospel were all about. And he does it with a remarkable clarity and simplicity.
Indeed, the most surprising thing about this book is that it seems to have been written as much for non-Christian seekers as for fellow Christians. This is a book you could give to your "spiritual but not religious" friends who might be interested in learning more about Jesus. However, from the looks of some of the previous comments here, this quality seems to have already caused some people to misread and misunderstand Brian's words. For example, Brian does NOT say that he doesn't believe in demons or supernatural powers, but he does acknowledge that some of his non-Christian readers may have a hard time believing in such things, and thus he tries to cast his discussion of Jesus' encounters with demonic powers in terms that would make sense to skeptical people.
The title itself has to do with the idea that Jesus often concealed his message in parables and questions. Rarely does Jesus ever give a clear statement of what the gospel is all about. In fact, in Matthew 13:10-15 Jesus flat out admits that he is being deliberately unclear. Brian asks why would Jesus do such a thing? If doctrinal knowledge is so very important (at least according to evangelical theologies), then why couldn't Jesus have just spoken more clearly and told us everything we needed to know. Why did he speak in parables rather than in doctrinal statements? Why does the Bible contain letters and poems and stories rather than systematic theology?
What Brian suggests is that perhaps Jesus' purpose was not to simply impart knowledge. Instead maybe Christ's goal was to effect spiritual transformation in the lives of his hearers by inviting his hearers into an interactive relationship with himself; and maybe this goal is best achieved by means of parables and other similarly evocative forms of communicating.
But what is Jesus' secret message then? According to Brian, it comes down to the idea of the kingdom of God as a present, political, social, and personal reality. In other words, he focuses on the fact that Jesus didn't seem to talk about heaven as some place we go to after we die, but rather as a reality that we can begin to live in here and now ("the kingdom of God is among you!"). And perhaps by living in this reality (according to its ways and values) we can begin to transform the world in such a way as to bring a little bit more of heaven to earth.
In other words, Brian challenges the dominant evangelical theologies that make Christ's message all about how to get forgiveness for your sins so that you can go to heaven after you die, and instead gives us a bigger, fuller view of the gospel. This gospel certainly includes forgiveness for sins, and resurrection from the dead, but it goes so much more beyond that. The idea is that Jesus didn't only come to tell us how to die, he also came to show us how to live!
Brian puts it this way:
"What if 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)
Brian spends the rest of the book describing this revolution and this new world. The book itself is divided into three main sections. The first, "Excavation: Digging Beneath the Surface to Uncover Jesus's Message", dives into the historical and especially the first century Jewish context of Jesus' message. To me it seems obvious that if we are to really understand what Jesus is all about we must first understand him through the eyes and ears of his original audience. What astounds me is that there are still some Christians (like some of the ones who have already posted reviews here) who see this approach as a threat to an "evangelical" understanding of scripture. But if we truly respect the Bible and desire to know what it's really saying, then wouldn't we want to look at it first through the lens of its historical and cultural context rather than through the lenses of our systematic theologies? After all, most of our current theologies, whether evangelical or liberal, were developed centuries later in response to very different questions than those that concerned Jesus and his followers.
As Brian uncovers this historical context of the message he shows how it has revolutionary political and social implications, both for Jesus' time and for ours. Not revolutionary in the sense that Jesus was trying to violently overthrow Rome and set up a new Jewish kingdom in its place, but revolutionary in that Jesus was calling people to live according to the values and practices of a new social order, and swear allegiance to a different Lord than Caesar. This is the thrust of the book's second section, "Engagement: Grappling with the Meaning of Jesus's Message", as Brian more fully explains the implications of Christ's message of a kingdom of sacrificial love, subtle subversion and radical inclusion.
The third and final section, "Imagination: Exploring How Jesus' Secret Message Could Change Everything", discusses the practical and personal implications by examining how this new understanding of Jesus transforms our understanding of social relationships, spiritual practices, as well as the dynamics of just war versus active peacemaking. But Brian wades into even more controversial subjects when he suggests that this new understanding of the gospel requires us to also rethink our traditional understandings of Heaven, Hell and the End Times as well as who is really "in" and "out" of the kingdom and what that means. Without getting too mired down by trying to explain what Brian says about all these topics, I will say that the picture he paints is a far more satisfying and biblically consistent view than many of the ones that I've encountered in the evangelical Protestantism I grew up with.
Of course, it shouldn't be assumed that much of what Brian writes is entirely his own creation. This entire book is really a popularization of the work of many respected biblical scholars and historians such as N.T. Wright, Walter Wink, Dallas Willard and C.S. Lewis among others. He is standing on the shoulders of others, but he putting their work in terms that are more accessible to the average lay person, and indeed, even to non-Christians.
And it's a message that needs to be heard. This understanding of Jesus' message certainly will change everything for those who embrace it. Many of the perplexing absurdities and dilemmas of evangelical theology simply disappear when seen through this lens; while at the same time one is still challenged by Jesus' message to reorient one's whole life according to this new kingdom lifestyle. This is a message that needs to be heard. Not Brian's message, but Jesus' message - Jesus true message, stripped of centuries of theological accumulations. This is more than just a new view of the gospel (i.e. new "theology", new abstract ideas). It's an invitation to a new kind of life. Jesus secret message is an invitation to live in the Way of the Kingdom. It's a message that the world desperately need.
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2006
First let me say that I received an advance reader's copy of this book. I was asked by the publisher to write a review and post it on my blog and on Amazon.com. There was never any further requirements on what to say in this review.
Brian McLaren offers much to be discussed in The Secret Message of Jesus. The subtitle is "Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything".
Everyone loves to hear a secret. And for many the message of this book may come as a secret. It may be news to them. McLaren draws on a number of others' writings in this book. People like Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, and others. I have read most but not all of McLaren's books and one of his strengths is taking the thoughts of others and putting them in ways that are easily understood. This book follows that trend in his writings.
If you don't want to know what the secret is then don't read any further, just go buy the book and read it.
The book is about the "Kingdom of God" as it is expressed in the Bible. Or equally it is about "Life to the Full" or "Real Life" or "Eternal Life". This was Jesus' favorite subject. He talked about this constantly. But as McLaren points out the Church has watered this down over the centuries.
The books starts out establishing the Jewish culture and political scene that Jesus was born and lived within. McLaren does his usual job of deconstructing the culture so that it is easily understood. This is something he has done in the past to help express an understanding of the current culture.
The book builds on this understanding to show that Jesus' message was not outside of the context which he lived. It further points out that the Kingdom, which he says would not be the analogy that Jesus would use today, is not just about atonement. That is that Jesus' message is not just about life after death. It has profound implications to the here and now.
The last few chapters of the book are ones that I found particularly thought provoking. In one of those chapters McLaren draws back to the beginning of the book, and the different Jewish sects that existed. He then shows how each of those had a distinct view of the "afterlife". Then he shows how that Jesus' message didn't fully fit into any of their concepts.
This book shows how radical Jesus' message was and is. It is radical and has deep implications for today and how followers of Jesus should live.
In a chapter titled "The Scandal of the Message" it is pointed out that Jesus sometimes makes easily misunderstood statements, "exposing his neck, so to speak, to those who will take the chance to slit it....His critics interpret his statements in the worst possible light and again, in their ugly response, show what they're made of and what drives them." I am sure that some will find fault with this book, maybe their reaction will show more of what they're made of than what the book is about.
The book contains three appendixes that deal with the Lord's Prayer, Why this understanding was not seen sooner and the third titled "Plotting Goodness". The book is worth the price of admission for these alone.
McLaren writes that this book is not meant to answer all your questions, but that he hopes it will make you hungry and thirsty for more. I think it will do just that.
52 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2006
This is, once again, an excellent book. McLaren has done a marvelous job of going back to the real text of scripture and pointing out what Jesus has said and how he thorough. That said, in many ways, the ideas in this book are not really theologically novel thoughts, and as such, I believe this book is very accessible even for those who may be suspicious of the emergent movement or McLaren's writings. McLaren frequently references respected Christian scholars and leaders whose names should not ring bells of terror to any Christian: Martin Luther King, C.S. Lewis, Dallas Willard, Walter Bruggemann, and Tony Campolo.
The Jesus presented in The Secret Message of Jesus is orthodox and non-heretical. But Jesus is shown to be a real person with a very radical message - one which we are often too uncomfortable with to give real credence to in our lives. He didn't fit into easy, comfortable boxes back then, and he doesn't now, either. McLaren demonstrates a real commitment to scripture as he not only does an excellent job of walking through Christ's manifesto, the Sermon on The Mount, his parables, and other teachings and explaining them through the contextual lens of the culture of Christ's day, but also demonstrating what they can mean for us today. It is an uncompromising, no-holds-barred approach to Christ and what he expects of his followers.
I think the thing I appreciated most about this book was how McLaren was able to tie together Paul's writings with Jesus' teachings and help the reader get past the sometimes stumbling block of "Paulianity" vs. "Christianity." He explained Paul's writings, which we sometimes see as contradictory to or inconsistent with Christ's, as a logical development which applied to a new and changing culture of both Christ-followers as well as the political era of the day. I also found Appendix A, containing his study of church history and some of its shortcomings with regard to the message of Christ, fascinating.
I studied theology at a conservative Christian college, and there discovered the scholarly studies of scripture that are often inaccessible to the lay person. I learned to read scripture in a way that took into account context and culture and ancient writing styles. Because of this, much of what McLaren says is not new to me, but the great strength of this book is that it makes accessible to lay readers the truths gained from Christian scholarship that are not often utilized in the modern church.
And I believe that is the point of the title of this excellent work, The Secret Message of Jesus. It is not that Christ's message has been completely hidden for centuries and only now has McLaren discovered it. It is rather that the church has tended to water down and compromise Christ's message and that lay church members have not always had the resources or wherewithal to see that message in all its unflinching honesty. Certainly many have over the years, including C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Boenhoffer, and Martin Luther King, to name just a few. This book is just an attempt to compile and make accessible the truth that has always been there.
I encourage you to approach this book with an open mind. It is hard for me to believe some of the extremely negative reviewers have even read the book. Go to a bookstore and page through it if you are curious but not ready to commit. I think it will be a very worthwhile read, both for fans of McLaren as well as for those who are unsure or even skeptical. And ultimately, read it with an open Bible in hand, for I believe that will be proof enough.
37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2006
Okay, I'll admit, I'm a McLaren, Miller, Campolo, etc... fan. So there's that. But I also love some of the traditionalists, like Stoll and Yancy (actually, he's not so much a traditionalist). Anyway...
The point is, I think McLaren is representative of something that is exciting and fresh (albeit controversial) in the Way today.
The overall message of this book is greatly refreshing and exciting. Upon reading it, you feel a sense of movement underground, a subersiveness, a hope, a challenge... Much like what it must have been like to be in the hearing of the early christian leaders (before we became lapdogs). Of course, some people will respond to the challenge with fear, indignation, and judgement. That is their perogative, and they are entitled I suppose.
My one issue with this book (as it was with A Generous Orthodoxy) is clarity of writing. Even though I enjoy McLaren's style overall, I find him a bit inconsistent in his writing. It's not that I don't understand what he is saying, it's just that sometimes I'll go from being all the way there with him on a point that he is taking me to, but then it's like a jumble. And I get to the end of a chapter and have to reread a section to be sure that I got it all. It could be me, but I don't usually have that issue, even with much headier stuff. But I'm not going to fault a man and probably prophet of God for his writing...I mean not even every book of the Bible was particularly well written. It's what's in the book.
Oh and by the way, whoever suggested that there was some movement on here to slander this book...I was sketchy of your claim at first, but then I started checking it out and I agree.
It does seems that some reviewers (certainly not all) are trying to drive down the rating for this book. And it seems that some of them (according to their reviewer history) have ONLY reviewed this book or have ONLY given negative reviews to books written by writers they may consider "liberal".
FOr example, when someone has only reviewed McLaren, Lamott, and Donald Miller and given all of them only (1) star and has not reviewed anything else!!!
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2006
Upon receiving The Secret Message of Jesus I was immediately struck with a strange fear by the title alone: had McLaren slipped into some sort of gnosticism? Of course, that wasn't it at all, though I would have to say that the title does not do justice to the book and quite often it felt like he was trying to twist what he was saying in the book to fit the title in nicely, which it didn't. But that is just secondary stuff to the book itself. This is a book about the Kingdom of God, which makes it invaluable in a society where that Kingdom has been ignored or replaced by the average believer.
If you are at all aware of the people McLaren reads and is influenced by, this book comes as no surprise. Particularly, N.T. Wright and Walter Wink have been writing about the Kingdom for years and their influence is obvious. Of course he also uses C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr, and, to a lesser degree, Walter Brueggemann, Jurgen Moltmann, and possibly even Crossan, though he is not often quoted. What I'm saying is that if you are a follower of some of these writers, McLaren doesn't necessarily have much to add, though he does do a fine job of boiling down and mixing their thoughts for the everyday Christian looking to live into the Kingdom, which I'm sure is what he is looking to do. Although this means that I didn't find it as thought-provoking as I typically find his books, I would still say that it challenged how I live on a daily basis.
The Secret Message does a wonderful job of putting Jesus into his context within first century Palestine. McLaren points out the beliefs and actions of different groups from his time/location, from Essenes to Herodians to Pharisees. It is looking at these different groups, as well as the political situation of his country at the time and their struggle to make sense of being "God's chosen people" while under Roman conquest, that he can talk about Jesus' political, Jewish, revolutionary and "hidden" message.
Beyond the context of Jesus' life, McLaren also brings Paul into the picture and shows how Paul works within the kingdom framework provided by Jesus, rather than preaching his own gospel as some believe.
The most important thing about The Secret Message to me is this: Brian McLaren has written a book that seems far less controversial than usual, which makes it clear that the gospel is about participating in God's kingdom, both now and eternally, and is something much richer than heaven after you die. He brings the historical Jesus into today and asks the hard questions about what the Kingdom of God looks right now, about where it is breaking into our kingdoms. He creatively brings up different ways of referring to this Kingdom, such as God's dream, revolution, mission, network, and more.
My one problem that I often have with people referring to God's Kingdom, and this unfortunately often includes me when I'm not thinking things through, is that we get so excited about God's Kingdom that we forget the particulars Jesus said about it and focus on the parts we like more. McLaren used more Biblical passages than I'm used to seeing in his works, but I honestly think he could have gone even further, which is a big thing for me to say. Whenever I teach on the Kingdom, I'm blown away by what I think it is compared to what Jesus says the most about it. My hope is that the readers of this book would go to the Biblical text itself and read the gospels, as well as the entire New Testament (then the entire Bible even), keeping God's Kingdom in mind as they read.
Complaints aside, I would still say this is a good read. Let me put it this way to close: if every person on this planet read this book, the world would be a better place and the Kingdom would be more apparent than I've ever seen. This is a good introduction into current thinking on the Kingdom and a great reminder to all Christians about what our calling really is.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2006
As an English major, genre is rightly extremely important to author Brian McLaren. Before interpreting any book, a reader must understand the book's nature, purpose, and audience. Such is certainly true with "The Secret Message of Jesus."
Once a reader understands McLaren's intended audience and purpose with that audience, McLaren's consistent emphasis on the "newness" of his interpretation begins to make more sense. Here's his message (stop now if you don't like the end of the story being ruined by a reviewer): Jesus was a revolutionary who spoke not only about life in heaven later, but also about life on earth now, and not only about individual life now, but about corporate life, societal life, national, political life.
Here's the thing. I kept reading and thinking, "Yeah, so, how is that novel?" In the Evangelical circles in which I travel, this is simply not the "neo" or hidden message that McLaren makes it out to be. Yes, in these circles Jesus offering eternal life in heaven is an oft repeated refrain. However, equally vital in these circles is the fact that Jesus has a message for us today--a message about how we live together individually and corporately.
So, the secret message of Jesus is not nearly so secret even in the conservative Evangelical circles that McLaren is prone to critique. In fact, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, in Mainline Protestant Churches, in the Catholic Church, in Charismatic Churches, in African American Churches, and even in Conservative Protestant Churches, Jesus is often preached as a Revolutionary whose message mandates societal change now. The Gospel, in these groups, has both individual-salvific and a socio-political ramifications.
Undoubtedly, McLaren disagrees with my assessment, especially of Evangelicals, as the message of this book and most of his recent works makes plain. Perhaps that's one reason why some Evangelicals feel a tad confused and even unfairly judged by McLaren. He doesn't like their myopic, judgmental, exclusivistic ways (as he perceives them). However, it does feel a bit attacking to be called such, especially if you have, in fact, been trying to humbly live the beautiful, magical God-life in all its fullness just as much as McLaren has. . . . Perhaps they haven't missed the point quite as much as McLaren suggests. Perhaps, instead, they have pursued the point in mysterious, subtle ways in their homes, churches, neighborhoods, and places of employments--in ways that gentler eyes might see if they had eyes to see. . . .
So, what gives? Why the build up about a new, secret understanding of Jesus? "It's the audience!" McLaren wants to reach a secular, educated, somewhat liberal audience that has been turned off by their image of Jesus either as an other-worldly Savior or a this-world Pharisaical Judge. McLaren wants to entice these folks to reconsider the stereotype of Jesus that has offended them. I applaud his efforts. And, I encourage readers and reviewers to read McLaren's message in this light. Otherwise, you will likely be scratching your head with me wondering why this message seems much less secretive than McLaren stresses.
As for the message itself, as always Brian McLaren uses his English major writing skills quite well. "The Secret Message of Jesus" is a page-turner. Even though his message will not be novel to many who will end up reading this book, the author does present it in a captivating way.
As example of his fluid writing style, consider chapter 7 ("The Demonstration of the Message"). I have never read a more engaging, thought-provoking, and enlightening discussion of "miracles" (signs to signify and wonders to make us wonder) and their relationship to the kingdom, than I read in this chapter.
Chapter 18 ("The Borders of the Kingdom") is another penetrating, helpful, insightful, and practical chapter. I won't spoil this one for you, but if you've ever wondered about the exclusive message of the kingdom ("Repent!"), the inclusive message of the kingdom ("All you who are thirsty and sick, come and drink and be healed"), and how this seeming paradox relates, then read this chapter.
What, then, is this radical "kingdom now" message of Jesus? It has current application individually and societally. Individually, according to McLaren, it focuses on an "interactive relationship with God" through Christ. This is why, in McLaren's eyes, Jesus spoke in parables. He wanted to use cryptic images to spark our imaginations and prompt our curiosity so that we would humbly engage God, and be engaged by God, in dialogue about how to live the God-life.
Corporately, the message is a scandalous call to changing planet Earth now. CEOs cut their mega-salaries and hike the salaries of entry-level workers. Corporations care more about product safety than profit margins. Politicians wonder more about how their policies impact world peace than how their sound bites affect poll numbers. Soccer moms care less about their daughters' playing time and more about being a playful secret agent of the kingdom.
Hmm. In a sense, isn't this Charles M. Sheldon's "In His Steps"? We individually ask, "What would Jesus do?" Our individual responses light a candle that causes an epidemic of "passing it on" to others, eventually resulting in world-wide change as the kingdom reign of Christ becomes a practical reality.
One area that many will likely struggle with, both conservative Evangelicals and liberal seekers, is McLaren's attempted descriptions of heaven. Since the "kingdom of heaven" for McLaren is this-worldly, he must address the obvious question, "What then of the future heaven, of future life?" In chapter five, McLaren briefly discusses the phrase "eternal life" making it about entering now into the abundant kingdom life that Jesus inaugurated. In chapter twenty, he focuses on the eternal, after-life heaven. He tells us what it is not: harps, clouds, ethereal, disembodied. This is vital. But, he does not really tell us what it is. If this is intended to entice seekers, based upon a multitude of conversations with intellectual seekers, I doubt that it will allure them.
For those interested in a thoroughly biblical, captivating, and motivational view of the after-life, I highly recommend Randy Alcorn's opus, "Heaven" (a one-word title, but a 500-page masterpiece). "Heaven" makes heaven, well, very earthy. Alcorn's descriptions so powerfully portray the next life that they change the way we live this life. In fact, his application is similar to McLaren's: live now for the least of these.
Whereas "Heaven" is Alcorn's epic about the next world, "The Secret Message" is McLaren's classic about this world. He says it best in chapter 9 ("You Can't Keep a Secret"). "Jesus was master of making the music of life--not just with wood and string, tuners and frets, but with skin and bone, smile and laughter, shout and whisper, time and space, food and drink. He invited the disciples to learn to make beautiful life-music in his secret revolutionary kingdom-of-God way. He helped each of them learn the disciplines and skill of living in the kingdom of God" (p. 77). Much like Dallas Willard, McLaren is reminding us that kingdom-living then and now involves interacting with and imitating the life of Jesus. (For in-depth, theological, and practical discussions of kingdom living now, read Willard: "The Spirit of the Disciplines," "The Divine Conspiracy," and "Renovation of the Heart.") Though possibly not quite so secretive as suggested, the message is well worth knowing, living, and sharing.
Yes, know, live, and share the message of the kingdom of God. It is, as McLaren poetically recounts, the dream of God, the revolution of God, the mission of God, the party of God, the network of God, and the dance of God. Who in their right mind would choose to evade such an invitation?
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2006
I've never written an online review of a book before so if it sucks, I'm sorry. I'm just going to share about how it was helpful to me.
I really feel like all of Brian's books have been searching and stretching towards what is articulated in this book. It is basically a summary of the whole point of God's agenda or "dream" for the world.
It's almost as if Jesus' message was intended to be secret. Or at the very least a paradox of subtle and implicit in his teaching. The verse, "those who have ears to hear will hear" played through my head during my reading.
The book builds slowly but in a necessary way. Laying the foundation for the culture that Jesus was immersed in. Brian does an excellent job of reminding us of the political, economic, and social implications of the message of Jesus. Whereas we tend to focus on the theology of his message, we are reminded that Jesus didn't so much come to teach theology as he did to challenge our political, economic, and social realities (ch. 1-5). And the idea of miracles (ch. 6) being "outworkings" or "signs" helped me to clarify what was a sticky subject.
Brian spends a chapter (ch. 11) talking about the supposed differing "emphases" on the kingdom between Paul and Jesus and begins to mend some of the fences that have for me made Paul a difficult character at best when discussing this idea of the kingdom of God. The idea that Paul is not opposed to Jesus' teaching on the kingdom but is teasing out all of the practical implications that it has our social networks in particular was great.
The sermon on the mount chapters (ch.14-17), what Brian calls the Kingdom Manifesto, were some of the best chapters of the book as the talk centered around "a higher way" than the religious law and outward morality of the Pharisees, was the aim of Jesus.
And the metaphors or "new parables" given in chapter 16 to the phrase "kingdom of God" or "will of God" are so imaginative and hopeful for what this type of kingdom would look like. Brian uses the metaphor of "dream of God", as one of six that he gives. And I think that metaphor is so ripe with possibilities for articulating what the kingdom of God actually is.
He concludes with his thoughts on inclusion, "heaven", and other end times (ch. 18-21). Which offer a much more hopeful interpretation of the kingdom of God and how it plays out not only in the present, but in the future as well. I would love to add something witty or insightful here on these chapters but Brian does such a great job that these chapters are worth the price of the book alone. So I won't spoil it for you. But its such an incredibly hopeful interpretation of "end times" and their connection to the kingdom of God.
If this review sucked, I'm sorry. All I really know to say is that if the message was secret, or more likely so subtle/implicit that we didn't have ears to hear it. Or that we just plain lost sight of it. Then this book reminds of what the point of "IT" is. What the point of Christianity is. What the point of God is. What the point of creation is. What the point of history is. What the point of "salvation" is. It just makes "the point" of it all make sense. That's the best way I can explain it. Albeit not very well.
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2006
I just finished an advanced copy of Brian's newest book, The Secret Message of Jesus - Uncovering The Truth That Could Change Everything, and I believe it will be considered his best book so far. Not because he's sharing something so incredibly new, but because he has done so in such a way that invites such wonderful dialoge and engagement for all who read it. He brilliantly shows how Jesus Christ "came to start a political, social, religious, artistic, economic, intellectual, and spiritual revolution that would give birth to a new world" (p.4). He not only shows/explains/discusses this "secret message of Jesus," he generously invites all to participate in the implications it brings to our world, our relationships, the church, our jobs, and beyond.
One of the things I love about Brian's books is that he is challenging and open to new ways of thinking. This book is no different. Brian never comes across as a no-it-all or a man that says it's "my way or the highway" rather Brian writes the way he is in person - with honesty and generousity.
The book is laid out like so...
Part 1: Excavation: Digging Beneath The Surface To Uncover Jesus's Message
In this section McLaren introduces the readers to the political and socio-economic message embedded within Jesus' teachings.
Part 2: Engagement: Grappling With The Meaning Of Jesus's Message
In this section, the reality of the "the Kingdom being here and now" or "the present kingdom" and it's powerful and never-before-experienced implications are explained and developed.
Part 3: Imagination: Exploring How Jesus's Secret Message Could Change Everything
In this section, Brian spends most of his time challenging different views about heaven and hell, and discusses a kingdom manifesto and kingdom ethics. He also explains how in so many ways we have "missed" the message and shares a wonderful list of people who have influenced his way of thinking. He even has a discussion about Kingdom prayer.
There is no question that some will find this book controversial, but more so I believe will be invited, encouraged, and motivated. And for those who have not enjoyed McLaren's books in the past I think this book may change some of your feelings. I definitely recommend you getting The Secret Message of Jesus and reading it. You will not be disappointed.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2006
I have to admit that the title, "The Secret Message of Jesus" was one that threw me off guard. I can hear critics of McClaren already crying out, "OH, you know the secret and we don't?" I think "hidden" or "subversive" might be more useful title terms, but if you can get past the title, then you'll find an easy, quick, and inspiring read.
The book is divided into three sections, Excavation, Engagement, and Imagination. The book also contains three valuable appendixes regarding the Lord's Prayer, why we didn't get the secret sooner, and "plotting goodness (a term he borrowed from Bart Campolo)," in which he recommends some next steps with the people your in community with in regards to the book.
"Excavation" explores the cultural backdrop of Jesus' message. McClaren states an important point regarding this, saying "Jesus himself was a Jew, and (this book asserts) without understanding his Jewishness, one doesn't understand Jesus." For those who are unfamiliar with the culture of Jesus, this section is a wonderful overview of that. Brian walks through how Jesus' message was more politically subversive in nature, the impact of his Jewishness to His teachings, how Jesus taught (through parables, a fresh and intriguing perspective), miracles (signs and wonders he calls them), how it was demonstrated, and the "hidden" nature of His message (He didn't give straight answers to everybody who wanted them).
The next section, "Engagement", wrestles with how this message was received by those who heard it, as well as wrestling with some important questions (and ones that many critics of the emerging church want to know), such as "What is the gospel (The Open Secret, ch. 10), and how someone would enter the Kingdom of God (Getting It, Getting In). While these critics might not be satisfied with the response, McClaren is very clear about these questions. Throughout this section Brian digs deeper to how subversive this secret message was in every way, shape, and form to all who heard it: the Romans, the Jewish sects (Essenes, Zealots, Sadducees, and Pharisees), the Gentiles, and those who followed Him. He also sheds some light on Paul's wrestling with Jesus' message, which was reminiscent of many things N.T. Wright has said (I would recommend The Challenge of Jesus for a more thorough understanding), but very easy to read for the person who doesn't consider themselves an astute theologian (I might be one of those).
It is the final section of the book, "Imagination," that was the highlight for me. McClaren starts off with a bang in one of the best chapters of the book entitled Kingdom Manifesto (ch. 14), in which he brings this subversive message all together, walking through the Sermon on the Mount. It is a beautiful weaving of these three chapters in Matthew, in which McClaren puts everything that was said in the previous chapters all together. I appreciate that he treats the Sermon on the Mount as one sermon, not several mini-sermons. The following chapters deal with how the Kingdom of God influences an array of issues, including just war and redemptive violence theory, exclusion vs. inclusion in the church, new terms for the kingdom of God (I like the dream of God), the afterlife, the resurrection, and seeing the Kingdom of God at work right now.
The three appendices at the end are must reads as well, which give a more thorough discussion of the Lord's Prayer, and why we didn't get the "secret" sooner.
Overall, this book was a very easy read (as well as short, only 233 pages with the appendices, with big fonts) I think those who have read the New Kind of Christian Trilogy or Generous Orthodoxy to find this book less lofty in terms of language. The book is also easy to give to anybody who would be a seeker or one not familiar with Brian's writings to read. Whether you are one who loves McClaren or not, this book will be a great discussion tool. I believe, as Brian does, if we truly grasp the subversive nature of Jesus' message, everything could change as Brian hopes. This book should leave you hopeful, not doubtful, that God hasn't given up on his dream for the world.