Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The secret message of Jesus

By Chris Carpenter

Listed as one of America's 25 most influential evangelicals by Time Magazine, Brian D. McLaren is a pastor, author, and sometimes controversial innovator among Christian leaders, thinkers, and activists. He is perhaps best known for his key role in the Emergent Church movement.

In his latest book, "The Secret Message of Jesus" (W Publishing Group), McLaren poses multiple questions at the outset that imply the Church may have distorted Jesus' core message. In other words, what if Jesus was right but we have somehow misinterpreted what He said. McLaren contends that Christians need to take a good hard look for answers to these questions even if they alter our faith.

CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with McLaren to discuss whether Christianity should be about saving souls or saving the world, his contention that religion often serves as a tranquilizer, and the increasing presence of the Emergent Church.

Point blank, what do you think is the secret message of Jesus?

We tend to think that Jesus' message was primarily a message about how to go to heaven after we die. But as I go back and really try to be true to the Gospels and true to the New Testament, it is really clear that that wasn't the primary question Jesus was trying to answer.

That's an important question and a very important question in Protestant history because Protestants ended up with a different answer than Catholics to that question. But, for example, in the Lord's Prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray, "May your Kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." He doesn't teach us to pray, "May we go to Heaven, may we leave the earth." So, I think this message is about how God's will can be done on earth. I think in that way we see Jesus as launching a new movement in the history of the planet.

In your book, you describe the real message of Jesus as being final or even terrifying. Those are some interesting word choices for the subject matter at hand. Why do you use these types of words?

Well, I think if we take Jesus' message seriously, it tells us that everything has to change – our way of doing politics, our way of doing economics, our way of interacting with the environment, our way of dealing with people of other religions, our way of dealing with friends and family members with whom we have conflict. From one dimension of life to, of course, the whole range of our human experience, Jesus is telling us that we have to rethink everything.

In fact, that's what repent means – it means rethink everything.

In doing research for this interview I discovered that you describe religion as a tranquilizer. What do you mean by that?

Here's an example: hypothetically, if we have ninety percent of the people living in incredible poverty and ten percent of the people living in unimaginable wealth, religion could either motivate the ten percent to say, "Hey, we better change and start helping the ninety percent", or it could make the ten percent happy and feel, "Oh, God chose us to be rich and we don't have any responsibility," and make the ninety percent say, "Well, we're all going to heaven soon, so it will all be fine later on." So, religion can make us become pacified and accommodate to the way things are instead of being willing to rethink and seek transformation.

So with that said, should Christianity be about saving souls or should it be about saving the world, the environment, and everything else around us?

To me, this is one of the great examples of how the message of the Kingdom shows us that we're stuck in certain polarities. Because, in a way, you can't save souls without saving the world. If the world is continually bringing people down, we have to improve the world. On the other hand, if you try to save the world without paying attention to individuals -- let's say you wave the magic wand and the world was made perfect, but all the people were a mess. They would ruin the world again. So, to me, this is where the message of Jesus brings this incredible integrity – it integrates that. It forces us to say that I, as an individual have to change, but that doesn't stop with me, at least, the transformation of society.

No comments: